Saturday, December 31, 2011

Princess Birthday Party

My princess turned 3 last weekend. Yes, she was a Christmas Eve baby. Today we threw her a party that was just what she wanted... a PINK princess party. Although it's a busy time of the year and not many friends are around, we managed to have a great time.

The birthday girl... enjoying her PINK cake while wearing her "Tiana" dress.

The table... more on the cake below. Unfortunately, I didn't get a close-up picture of the other food: peanut butter & jelly sandwiches cut out into crowns, and fruit & marshmallow kebobs.

The chairs... thanks to a Pinterest find from The Crafting Chicks.
Plates, napkins, milk jars and treat bags, all ready for guests!

And the cake! I had so much fun making this, and it was super easy. I got inspiration from Glorious Treats. It's hard to tell from the picture, but the frosting goes from light pink to darker pink, to really dark pink at the bottom. And check out the inside...

I used 2 french vanilla cake mixes, measuring out half of each into separate bowls. Then I added a little bit of pink food coloring into one, more into the second, even more into the third, and left the last one plain.

After letting each layer cool, I stacked them up, using a thin layer of white buttercream between each layer.

Then I added a thin layer around the entire cake to create a base for the flowers.

Then I tinted the buttercream the same way as I did the cake mixes and started swirling away! A tiara was an easy decoration, then I wrapped tulle around the base and added a few fake roses. 3 candles later, I was done!

Happy birthday to my beautiful 3-year-old Princess Olivia.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

I Am Thankful

This Thanksgiving hasn't turned out quite like originally planned. We were supposed to have a family gathering at our house but instead we're spending the morning together just the three of us, and this afternoon we'll be heading over to our neighbors' house for dinner. It's given me some time to ponder what things I am most thankful for this year:
  1. My salvation. Despite all circumstances, I know that my future is secure. And I am so very blessed that my family shares that same faith and future. It makes all things bearable.
  2. My husband. Adam is just right for me. There is no doubt in my mind that God specifically put him in my life at just the right time.
  3. My daughter. She brings so much joy to our life. {And as I type this, she is watching The Grinch, and quoting "Why? Why are you taking the Christmas tree? Why?" Too cute.}
  4. My dad. He's had a rough couple of weeks, and I'm selfishly thankful that God has given him more time on the earth.
  5. My mom. Such a strong, Godly woman.
  6. My sister. No one understands like she does.
  7. My in-laws. Yes, really. I hit the jackpot when I married into this family. They love deeply.
  8. My church. Such an amazing support system!
  9. My pastor. He challenges me each and every week. Even when I think the topic won't apply to me, I always leave knowing that I was filled with knowledge, wisdom and conviction.
  10. My job. I was a victim of the first round of economic layoffs, but I was blessed with an even better job where I am challenged and valued daily.
I could continue, but I think this is a good list to start with today. And besides, I want each of you to spend time being thankful with your own families and friends instead of reading about my thankfulness!

So blessed.

Knock-Off Cinnamon Rolls

Happy Thanksgiving!!! A couple of my friends are running the Turkey Trot this morning. Others are busy cooking up a storm. Some may be "fasting" to save room and calories for the indulgences to come later today. How did our family begin the day? Cinnamon rolls, of course!
I'll be making some pecan pie and green bean casserole later this morning, so I wanted something quick. But I also wanted something special for breakfast for my family. I had some crescent rolls in the fridge, and some cinnamon chips left over from the shower I threw a couple weeks ago, so I was all set.

First I unrolled the crescent dough, separated it into the two long strips, and rolled the seams together.

Then I melted up a little butter and brushed it over the rolled out dough. After sampling a few of the cinnamon chips {man, I love those things!} I sprinkled them generously on top.

Next I rolled the dough up, pressing the seam down so it would stay together when it was baked {which it didn't do very well, but oh well}.

 To cut the rolls, I used a little trick my mom always did when making {real} cinnamon rolls: cut a piece of sewing thread, slide it under the dough, and cinch it up until it cuts all the way through the dough.

Put the rolls on parchment paper on a baking sheet, and repeat with the other half of the crescent rolls.

Pop into the oven, following the time listed on the crescent roll package, and voila! Breakfast is served! Well... ok, so I added some pecan cream cheese frosting that I had left over... not necessary, but it definitely was a great addition! {I promise that the recipe for the Butter Pecan Cake that the frosting was from is coming soon!}

Happy Thanksgiving ~ enjoy family, friends, and food!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Woodland Baby Shower

Another baby shower this year! After the two baby showers earlier this year, I promised my husband that I wouldn't agree to host anything else this year until the holidays... but then I realized that my friend Lynee would absolutely need a baby shower, and so I had to break my promise - with his permission, of course. At least it wasn't at our house, right?!?! {justification...}

Lynee decorated her baby's nursery in a woodland theme, with deer and trees. So we ran with it. I began searching Pinterest and Google for ideas, and I was amazed at how popular the theme is. We started out with great invitations from Invitations by Ruth, which matched the nursery incredibly well.

The food table - isn't the acorn swag {made by Jen} great? Inspiration came from Lauren Makes.

Joanna found these adorable woodland creature cupcake picks on Etsy! The cupcake liners {from WalMart} were folded up in the cupcake tins before batter was added. Then we did a quick swirl of frosting with a big star decorating tip and stuck in the picks. So easy!

This was my contribution to the food table - my Hershey kiss/mini Nilla wafer/cinnamon chip acorns turned out so well {and tasted really good}! I've seen them a few places on Pinterest, but I think the original idea is from Lipstick & Laundry.

Add some fruit, chips and salsa, and crackers and cheeseball, and it was a fun afternoon spread!

There's just something about dainty cloth napkins wrapped with a simple ribbon, and clear glass hostess sets to eat off of... LOVE!

The stash of gifts... for my present to Lynee, I wanted something that wasn't necessarily practical, but something I knew she would still use. After much searching, I came across The Flies Blend where there was a DIY for monthly onesies. I think they turned out pretty well...
I downloaded the printables from the blog and opened each in a Word document, then formatted them so each one filled an entire page {6 were on a page}. Then I used Avery iron-on transfer paper for ink jet printers and printed them using the highest quality my printer would do. I cut them apart and then followed the directions on the Avery package to transfer them onto the onesies {in 4 different sizes}.

Then I rolled them each up and put them in a gift box from Target.

This is Lynee opening the gift - I think she liked them. :-)

The girls! Joanna, Lynee {mommy of honor!}, Jen, and me.
Can't wait to meet your baby, Lynee!!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies

I'm not much of a cookie-baker. Maybe that comes from me not being much of a cookie-eater. I've just never gotten consistent results, or even good results, when it comes to baking cookies. I guess I've never had much incentive to get good at it. I just always thought that cookies should be the easiest thing to make, and since I didn't do it well and I didn't really like them anyway, I never made the effort to try.

A couple nights ago, though, I got a craving for cookies. WHAT?!?! Maybe it was just a craving to bake something, and I knew I didn't have the time or the energy to bake something "serious." So I asked my daughter if she wanted to bake some cookies with me. "YES!!!" came the answer from the living room. But after she helped me get all the ingredients out, she left me alone in the kitchen so she could go "feed her babies." Apparently that's much more important these days than helping Mommy in the kitchen.

I didn't take many prep photos... and the ones I did take didn't turn out well because it was so late in the evening and the lighting just wasn't good. But I fortunately remembered a few little tricks on cookies that I had stored away over the years.

1. After the batter is mixed together, let it chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before spooning it onto the cookie sheet. For some reason this helps prevent the cookies from spreading out as they bake. {I normally end up with one big, thin cookie instead of several individual cookies.}

2. Line the cookie sheet with parchment paper. While this has no effect on the cookies themselves, it makes for much easier clean-up.

3. Use a cookie or ice cream scoop to put the batter onto the pan - the cookies bake much more evenly if they're all the same size.

4. After baking, let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack. The cookies firm up a bit and don't fall apart so easily after the slight cooling.

5. Cookies are best eaten right out of the oven --> and the rest should be given away!

Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate squares
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Melt unsweetened chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl; allow to cool slightly. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add the sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in the melted chocolate, egg, and vanilla until combined. Beat in the flour, stirring by hand if necessary. Stir in the oats and chocolate chips.

Drop dough about 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet, lined in parchment paper. Bake in a 375° oven for 8-10 minutes or until edges are firm. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwiches

This morning was a Pinterest morning. Have you discovered Pinterest yet? WARNING: It's highly addictive when you first discover it. But then you taper off a bit (hopefully?) and actually find it to be a useful tool to organize all of the great stuff you find on the Internet.

Anyway, my friend Erin hosted a Pinning Party, where everyone brought a dish they had found on Pinterest, and the supplies to make a craft we had pinned. (Seriously. If I've lost you, check out the website.) So I made one of the very first things I ever pinned - Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwiches. (For the original website and post, please see Picky Palate.
Yep. They're as good as they look. Graham crackers, chocolate, and peanut butter. Those are really the only ingredients. Start by melting some good-quality chocolate and dip graham crackers in it. Put them all on parchment paper or wax paper on a cookie sheet, and stick it in the freezer for about 5-10 minutes to harden.
Take them out of the freezer and plop a generous portion of peanut butter on top of each one. I used my cookie scoop to measure it out.
Spread out the peanut butter on each cracker. This was actually the  most difficult part of the process for me. I wanted to get it almost all the way to the edge and corners but not go over, and still have it spread evenly over the entire cracker. With that much peanut butter, it wasn't very easy.
The back into the freezer for 10 minutes for the peanut butter to set up. At this point you'll want to make sure your remaining chocolate is still smooth and thin enough to pour. This is when I realized I hadn't purchased enough chocolate - there was no way I would have enough to cover the tops. So I rummaged... and found an old giant Hershey bar. What did I have to lose? I broke it up into pieces and stuck it in the microwave. It ended up not melting well. So I grabbed some shortening, tossed in about 1 1/2 tablespoons with the chocolate, and tried again. Sure enough, it melted up and got just as smooth as the good-quality chocolate. I love it when things just work out. :-)
Take a spoon full of chocolate and plop it on top of the peanut butter. Then use a plastic knife to smooth it up to and over the edge of each one, then smooth it around the outside as well. Not the prettiest things in the world, but they were super easy AND super fast... I finished the entire process in just over an hour, just in time to head to Hobby Lobby, grab some supplies, and get to the party 30 minutes late. Oops!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sandwiches
adapted from Picky Palate

12 graham cracker squares
3 cups good-quality chocolate (more-or-less)
2 cups peanut butter
shortening to help melt chocolate, if needed

Chop chocolate into small pieces, then microwave until almost melted. Stir until smooth. Dip each graham cracker into the chocolate, allowing excess to drip off, then place on parchment paper or wax paper on a cookie sheet. Freeze for 5-10 minutes until hardened.

Spoon 2 tablespoons peanut butter on each cracker, then spread to the edges. Freeze another 10 minutes until set.

Spoon melted chocolate over the peanut butter. Using a plastic knife, smooth chocolate over the top, allowing the chocolate to spill over the sides. Use the knife to smooth out the sides. Freeze another 10 minutes. Keep them in the refrigerator until ready to serve - they get gooey fast!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Veggie Purees

Not much baking going on at my house this week... too much other stuff going on. That doesn't mean I'm not spending my fair share of time in the kitchen, though! I've been catching up on my veggie purees to "sneak" some extra nutrition into our meals. My kitchen has been in varying stages so far this week, and I'm finally making some progress.
Potatoes? Peeled, cooked and mashed. Sweet potatoes? Roasted, peeled and pureed. Spinach... um, still in the fridge.
I took my inspiration from Jessica Seinfeld's "Deceptively Delicious" cookbook. However, most of the recipes just haven't turned out to be something my family will eat. I do still use the cookbook a lot, though - for the first section where she describes how to cook the different types of veggies. I also have gotten really good ideas of which veggies work well in other foods. Cauliflower, for example, is very easily hidden in potato dishes, which my family gobbles up.
Zucchini... well, I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to use it. Probably in a soup of some sort - that's a great place to pack some hidden nutrition. I rarely make soup anymore without adding a veggie puree. And hey, I finally found a use for my silicone muffin pan! I really hate the way it bakes, but it's fantastic for freezing 1/4 cup of puree at a time... and then the frozen purees pop right out and I can store them all in a plastic freezer bag. (Another great way to store these is to measure out 1/2 cup in a small freezer bag. Lay flat in the freezer until firm, and then they fit about anywhere, and it takes no time to thaw.)
Carrots... a great puree for soups, especially chili. Some other combos that work well: spinach or broccoli is easily hidden in beef dishes, sweet potatoes are fantastic in oatmeal (seriously!), and butternut squash works with just about everything. It's so bland that I can even swipe some on a piece of bread before adding peanut butter & jelly, and the kiddo never bats an eye. Tricky, right? ;-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Butterfinger Delight

Do you ever make a recipe a second time and it's not anything like you remembered it to be? The one that comes to mind for me is the first meal I ever made for my now-husband and his roommate at the time. They were cream cheese mushroom enchiladas. Both of us remembered them having a white sauce over them, but when I made them again, they actually had a tomato sauce over them. We were both baffled, but I know it's the same recipe. Still good, just different from what both of us had remembered.

This recipe is that way for me. I've made it a few times, and each time I'm surprised at how it turns out and tastes, because it's different from how I remember it. Weird, right? Still really good, just different. I don't get it.
You start by crushing up graham crackers and soda crackers - I use my Ninja to make really fast work of it. I love my Ninja! (Not getting paid to say that, but I'd be willing to say it for money, if asked!)
Mix in a little butter to make it stick together, and then 2/3 of the mixture goes into a 9x13" pan. But I never let myself keep all of this dessert in the house - I've always made it in two pans so I can give half of it away. Otherwise I would literally sit and eat the whole thing by myself.
Then you let a box of ice cream sit out on the counter... for a long time. If I think of it soon enough, I get the ice cream out well before I'm ready to make the dessert so I don't have to soften it in the microwave or work with hard ice cream. Once it's softened, add the milk and pudding and mix, mix, mix.
Doesn't that look like a gross science project? :-) After it's all mixed up, though, it's so creamy and delicious. Pour it over the cracker crust in the pan(s).
It goes into the refrigerator at this point, for 15 minutes up to overnight. You don't have to wait until you're ready to serve it to do the next steps, though. Just wait long enough for this layer to set up so you don't mess it up when you spread the whipped topping over it. Then sprinkle either crushed Butterfinger or Heath bars on top. (I usually use Heath, because the baking section of the grocery store usually has them pre-crushed in a bag - so easy.)
So try it out, eat it up, and then let me know if it comes out the same as you remember it the next time. I'm still baffled.

Butterfinger Delight

2 cups crushed graham crackers or vanilla wafers
1 cup crushed soda crackers
1/2 cup melted butter
2 cups milk
2 packages instant vanilla pudding
4 cups (1/2 gallon) vanilla ice cream, softened
3-4 crushed Butterfinger or Heath bars
8 ounces whipped topping

Mix crumbs and margarine. Spread 2/3 of the mixture in a 9x13" pan. Set aside. Mix milk, pudding and ice cream. Pour mixture over crumb layer and let set in refrigerator 10-15 minutes or overnight. Spread Cool Whip over the top. Mix remaining crumb mixture and crushed Butterfinger and sprinkle over the top. Refrigerate.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse

We're going super easy today... and super delicious! Check these out:
I made these mousse cups for a little neighborhood block party we had at our house on Labor Day. Everyone brought burgers, sides, and desserts... this was one of my contributions. I wish I could say I spent hours on them, but in reality they took all of 5 minutes to whip up.

Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse
adapted from

1 1/4 cups cold milk
1/4 cup Irish cream liqueur or milk
1 package (3.9 ounces) chocolate instant pudding
8 ounces whipped topping, thawed

Beat milk, liqueur and pudding mix with whisk 2 minutes. Stir in whipped topping. Spoon into 6-8 dessert cups. Refrigerate until ready to serve. If desired, garnish with additional whipped topping and chocolate sprinkles just before serving.

Linking up with...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Zucchini Cornbread

I'll admit that I was sceptical about this recipe. Zucchini in cornbread? Really? But the picture looked so good. And when the hubby brought zucchini home from work one day, I decided it was time to try it.

Oh wow. It is soooooo good. I don't think I'll be able to make regular zucchini bread again. (And just look how beautiful it is!)
You start with browned butter again. This time I think I got it just right - wait until it's all melted, then let it cook another 3 minutes. Perfect.
While that's cooling, you grate up the zucchini. I think the grater is my favorite KitchenAid attachment. So fast, so easy, minimal clean-up. *love*
When the butter has cooled off, add the eggs and buttermilk. If the butter isn't completely cooled, pour the egg/buttermilk mixture into the butter in a very slow stream with one hand, while whisking with the other hand. That way the eggs won't cook when they hit the warm butter. Then mix in the zucchini.
Mmm, look at all those green veggies in there! Next comes the dry ingredients - I love that this has both regular flour and whole-wheat flour. And cornmeal. It adds such a great texture!
Into a greased loaf pan... and then topped with a few reserved thin slices of zucchini for decoration.
Absolutely perfect the first time. And I have another zucchini left, so guess what I'll be making again today!

Zucchini Cornbread
adapted from bon appetit

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large zucchini
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup cornmeal

Position a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350°. Grease a 9x5x3" loaf pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Continue cooking until butter at bottom of pan turns golden brown, about 3 minutes. Pour butter into a medium bowl. Set aside and let cool.

Trim zucchini ends. Thinly slice 3-5 1/8" rounds from 1 end of zucchini and reserve for garnish. Coarsely grate remaining zucchini. Whisk eggs and buttermilk into butter. Add zucchini and stir until well-blended.

Sift both flours, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into large bow. Whisk in cornmeal. Add zucchini mixture; fold just to blend (mixture will be very thick). Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top. Place reserved zucchini slices on top of batter down center in a single layer.

Bake bread 55-65 minutes until golden and a tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan; let cool completely on a wire rack.