My Cake Decorating Gallery

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Batman Birthday Cake and DIY No Sew Super Hero Capes

My son was turning 4 and that's the prime age for loving super heroes! He had asked for a Batman birthday party and that's what we did. I got a few batman decorations but mostly the cake and party favors were carrying the theme. The cake was his favorite (confetti) with mousseline buttercream in blue. I ordered some Fondarific black fondant as well as some white (from Amazon) knowing that in 6 weeks my little guy would be turning 2 so it would come in handy again (for a construction themed birthday cake). It was my first time trying Fondarific and I was pleasantly surprised, 1 million times better tasting and behaving than Wilton fondant. Cheaper too - give it a try. I rolled out some black fondant and free-form cut some buildings/city scapes that I layered to make the lower edge of the cake. I also used the black fondant for a larger oval and the bat shape using a batman cookie cutter (I bought this to make batman cookies for his preschool class since he doesn't even like cake, so no cupcakes for him!) 

I made some yellow fondant out of the white fondant and rolled out the "beam of light" and 4 and smaller yellow oval to finish off the batman logo, as well as the Happy Birthday letters. Finally I cut out tiny windows and used water to stick them on to the black buildings before placing the buildings on the cake. It worked out great. This batman cake was pretty easy to decorate! It was the nicest cake I'd made for my 4 yr old because his birthday is close to Christmas and it's just usually such a hectic time with schedules, work and cold/flu season, so I was happy this cake turned out so great. He didn't eat the cake (who knows why he doesn't like cake), but he loved the black fondant buildings calling it 'chocolate'. 

To go along with the theme, I was looking for non-junky party favor ideas which didn't include a bunch of cheap choking hazards from China. I came across do-it-yourself super hero capes here. I went to the fabric store to buy very soft fleece in black, royal blue and turquoise, as well as accent colors of red, yellow and white for the badges and lightning bolts and letters. (The original blog post I was following used felt for the badges but you could see the glue through it so I recommend using fleece.)

I think they turned out great! The only real problem I had was listening to the lady at the fabric cutting counter who told me to get Wonder Under instead of fabric glue. What a stupid mistake.. I followed the directions on the package and it was melting the fleece before it would adhere and ruined a bunch of badges and letters and probably my iron... really annoying when I had plenty to do besides redoing a bunch of this work! I was super ticked at that lady. Anyway, don't use Wonder Under and fleece!

The next thing I should have changed was skip the whole stick-on or glue-on velcro for the neck closures.. those ripped off all the capes after about the first 10 minutes of use. It would've been cheaper and easier to just snip a hole and tie a black ribbon on each side for the super hero to use as a tie for the cape. I ended up redoing that for my two kids' capes.. you could also try buying velcro which requires stitching, but that doesn't follow the "no sew" rules too well. So, I learned from my mistakes but these capes were pretty fun and an unusually cool party favor. Hard to top homemade personalized super hero capes!

I also used extra fleece and elastic bands for attempting to make super hero masks in coordinating colors, as I had forgotten I had already purchased some batman paper masks from the store. They looked cute but perhaps next time I'd use a template as they didn't seem to fit a variety of head sizes (we had ages 2 through 6 at the party) very well. The kids were excited for both masks and the cape in the party favor bags.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fall Treats - Put it in a Waffle! Apple Waffles

If you're in the mood to splurge and add some fall flair into your breakfast, these apple waffles are delicious! My nearly 4 year old decided he only liked plain waffles and refused to eat these (isn't that annoying), but the little guy gobbled them up and I thought they were great. The Husband wasn't here but he will love these, being an apple dessert lover.

Cinnamon Apple Waffles
adapted from MrBreakfast's Apple Waffles

2 cups flour
3 T sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla
1 large apple, finely diced

Wisk flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in one bowl. Separate the eggs - eggwhites in your kitchenaid mixer with the whip attachment (or bowl you plan to use for whipping), and the egg yolks in a separate bowl (Yes, I know, three bowls have to get dirty and for that I apologize profusely).

While the mixer is whipping up the eggwhites on high speed (goal is stiff peaks) and your waffle iron is heating up, wisk the egg yolks and add in the milk and stir to combine. Then mix the yolk/milk mixture in with the dry mixture, and don't overmix. Stir in vegetable oil, cinnamon, vanilla and fold in the stiff eggwhites. Carefully stir in the diced apple (I used a large granny smith and it was quite nice having a tart contrast with the sweet maple syrup).

Scoop into your waffle iron (I spray mine first to avoid sticking), and cook until your preference (The Husband likes soft and I like crispy waffles!) Enjoy with pure maple syrup or a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

I hope you enjoy, these were really delicious - they look whole wheat/healthy too but it's just the cinnamon. ;)

Make Ahead Treats for Deer Camp

Well, it's well into the fall season here in Michigan and I have finally broken the long streak of no baking at our house (really have been good over here!) to do a few things this week. I made several things for The Husband to take up to opening day of Deer Camp - a few new recipes which I think turned out great: World's Best Lasagna from AllRecipes.comDutch Apple Pie With Oatmeal Streusel from, Martha Stewart's Muffaletta, and Make Ahead Breakfast Burritos.

For the pie, I tried a new-to-me recipe for Fool Proof Pie Crust and since I only made one pie, I really wonder how it all turned out! I couldn't exactly cut a sliver to test it out before sending it along, haha. If the crust is good, I will use it for a cherry berry pie I plan to make for Thanksgiving.

Most of these things went directly up north with The Husband so I either didn't get a photo or just have a fuzzy snapshot from my phone. For the lasagna, I had a few scraps of the components leftover so I made a tiny one that The Husband and I tried (before popping the main one in the freezer), and it was good! Also for the muffaletta, I made a small one using a sourdough bread bowl (the large one used a large French Boule), so that The Husband and I could share one for lunch before he headed up north. (So the picture of the cut muffaletta is actually the small one!) It was so delicious, I used hot sopressetta, capicola, hard salami, and black forest ham, along with provolone, arugula, and the muffaletta olive spread from Costco (which is utterly delicious by the way!). This is a wonderful make-ahead sandwich for a party or picnic - no mayo so it can sit out, and it is best if it sits in the fridge overnight. Cut into large (or small) wedges before serving. Yum yum yummy yum, and simple!

For the make-ahead breakfast burritos (I didn't realize you could do this with eggs and that they'd taste good after being frozen and reheated!), I just cooked up 1 lb of breakfast sausage, blotted the grease, and then added onions and bell peppers, and then after those were soft, added 10 eggs and scrambled those. Then I warmed 10 burrito sized flour tortillas and rolled up a scoop of filling with shredded cheese in each one, and wrapped with foil. The 10 breakfast burritos  I had a little bit of filling leftover so I made two small fajita sized ones that The Husband and I froze and tried the next morning. With the oven at 350 it really took about 30 minutes for the small ones to heat up, so I would recommend either popping them in well before you need them, or microwaving for a few minutes (Deer Camp doesn't have a microwave so we were testing the oven method). Before eating, top with some salsa! I didn't get a picture but the ziploc bag of 10 foil wrapped burritos is easy to imagine and lots of people have blogged about this using all sorts of add ins like potatoes and rice! Yum! What a nice grab-and-go alternative to all those quick breakfasts that are all sugar and no protein. We will be making these again for sure.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Great Beef Stew inspired by Chef John's Beef Merlot

Based on one of my favorite sources for recipes, Chef John at Food Wishes, we had a great beef stew last night. I followed his method except first fried about a half pound of bacon and set the bacon aside to add in later. Then, I browned the seasoned beef really well and I started with 6 lbs of fresh trimmed beef chuck. I put the heat on high and even my super huge nonstick pot could get some of the beef a nice golden crust - that's what you want, brown yummy goodness! The butcher man at Kroger was really nice to cut me fresh roasts from the back since they only had one in the meat case. Then he gave me a free 50 gas pts for my "inconvenience".. what a nice guy!

After I browned the big chunks of chuck beef, I dumped the bacon grease out (leaving the browned goodness stuck to the bottom of my pot) and added fresh olive oil. Then, I threw the roughly chopped 2 onions, a package of carrots chopped into large pieces, and a package of celery hearts chopped into large pieces. I browned all of the veggies for a good while until they were golden browned on some sides. I think I learned that step from Pioneer Woman - she browned her carrots and such before a pot roast. Since all my portions are larger, you can see I was making a double batch in a giant pot, and I am glad I did because honestly there wasn't that much leftover - probably not enough to freeze, I think we will easily eat it in a day or two.

After the veggies were browned (season with S&P to taste), I started the wine portion of Chef John's instructions - I put in 2 cups of wine (didn't double it but then added another cup later to cook down so I'd recommend at least 3 cups to start). I added 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, chopped, too. I let the veggies and wine cook until the wine was reduced to half. Then I added 3 cups of beef stock and the rest of the ingredients - a bundle of fresh thyme, some bay leaves, a good bunch of halved mushrooms, a tablespoon of flour and instead of more flour, I used 1 packet of onion soup mix. I put the top on and let it simmer for 1.5 hours. I checked it a few times and realized I could add the rest of my beef stock carton (the 4th cup) and another cup of wine, and it was still plenty of time to cook all that liquid down. By the time it was 1.5 hours in, and time to take the top off, there was hardly and liquid but enough to keep going and the meat was starting to get tender - I added the crumbled bacon in. By the end of 2 hours, everything was perfect. Since I was low on liquid, I finished the stew with about a half stick of salted butter which made it pretty awesome. Since we don't usually eat potatoes, I served the stew with mashed/pureed buttery creamy cauliflower with chopped green onions mixed in. The Husband said "this is one of your best". We typically eat low carb but a bit of soup mix or 1 table spoon of flower (6g carbs) doesn't affect us negatively and really made a big difference in the velvety glaze at the end -- instead of soft meat/veggies sitting in brown water. I love Chef John's recipes - so far each one has been excellent. I love his videos and listening to his cheerful and humorous description of how to do the recipes. What a cool job he has! I hope you try his Beef Merlot, it's wonderful!

Here is Chef John's original recipe. I didn't take a picture but the end product looks just like his except mine had halved mushrooms and crumbled bacon throughout as well. Next time I might try some tomato paste in there but not sure - it was so good as is!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Middle Eastern Feast

One of our feasts last summer - chicken shwarma, lamb kofta, & grilled eggplant!
Every once in a while, nothing sounds better than a Middle Eastern feast! This is a good menu for entertaining - easy to prep ahead and throw things on the grill, lots of exciting flavors and spices, and very healthy. I often use this menu to entertain when I am not eating carbs but my guests are not low carb - there's plenty of food to satisfy everyone.
Chicken Shawarma spices - you can marinate overnight
Here's the menu:

Grilled Chicken Shawarma Skewers from The Shiksa (I skip the second frying step myself and do the skewers on the grill, and I only use boneless skinless chicken thighs - yum!)

Lamb Kofta Kabobs from AllRecipes (this recipe is legit, tastes just like restaurant quality and I simplify by putting all spices/onion chunks/garlic cloves/parsley in the food processor to make a paste & save some time, and then mix that in with the ground lamb).

Lamb mixed with the seasonings for Lamb Kofta
Grilled Eggplant - Simply slice eggplant into 1/4in slices or so, sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper and grill until soft and charred and ridiculously yummy. (Seriously, eggplant tastes 1,000 more amazing prepared this way).

Add some fresh herbs to your hummous, basil-garlic-lemon is so delicious!
Megan's Hummus - I love hummus on any occasion and homemade always seems to taste the best. I always use my sister-in-law's recipe: In your food processor, puree 1tsp grated lemon peel, 2 T fresh lemon juice, 1 can garbanzo beans rinsed/drained, 2 T tahini sauce, 3 T olive oil, 2 T water, 1 garlic clove, 1/8 t cayenne pepper, and 1/4 t salt. Really puree for a long time to make it super smooth and I always add more lemon and garlic or salt, or make a double batch, etc. Adjust to your liking! I added some lemony basil once and it was fabulous! You can spread it over a plate and sprinkle with paprika and drizzle with olive oil and serve with pita wedges, or save in the fridge for 3 days.

Rice Pilaf (from a box), Sliced lettuce/onion/tomatoes, and Pitas and garlic sauce - I tried making that pure-garlic-yummy sauce that comes with chicken shawarma before and it was a fail, so I just head over to my local Middle Eastern restaurant and buy a large tub and a dozen or so pitas and that takes care of that! I don't typically have time to make my own bread. If anyone knows how to make that garlic sauce, let me know!

So for low-carb people, just make lettuce wraps with the shawarma and koftas with onions and tomato and garlic sauce - soo good! Eggplant is a great side and my new favorite vegetable to grill. For everyone else, the yummy fresh pitas and rice fills out the meal wonderfully. Instead of just making the same ole barbecue chicken when you have guests this summer, try something different and go middle eastern on the grill! You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Costco Hack: Bubbly Baked Spinach Artichoke Jalapeno Dip

Yum! I've tried some free samples of the La Terra Fina spinach dips and always thought they were pretty good, dip some veggies and crackers in there - they do not disappoint. La Terra Fina even sent me some a year or two ago, but I didn't have any recipe ideas for them nor know if I'd buy them again. True - if I was at Costco and prepping to entertain some guests, it's a good option to pick up a tub and a lot better than the dips I find on the shelves at Kroger. My "pretty good" assessment was related to the dip when it was served cold. Then, months later, one day I read the tub and noticed it said "try warm!"... so I did... it changes my assessment from "pretty good" to "100% addictive." Free samples or not, I highly recommend you try it as a hot spinach dip - yum!! I've made my own dips as well and I will still continue to buy this dip.

I tried the artichoke/jalapeno flavor as well as the typical spinach/artichoke flavor and it wasn't spicy enough for me. Then, I had a great idea to take my favorite spinach/artichoke flavor and amp it up with chopped jalapenos and bake it with a panko breadcrumb topping...because.. why not? This is really a great semi-homemade Costco hack that anyone can do and be proud to serve as an appetizer. The dip has a crunchy topping, creamy melty center and a zip and zing from the jalapenos. You can taste the the ingredients are real - this is key for a store-bought dip. Tons of flavor and definitely a keeper! I do tend to eat a lot at once and then have awful garlic breath. Worth it! Don't you love dips for appetizers? Let me know if you've found a product or recipe I should try - Kitchen Bliss loves happy hours.

Easy Spicy Bubbly Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip
By Kitchen Bliss

Supplies You'll Need:
1 tub La Terra Fina Chunky Spinach Artichoke & Parmesan or whatever spinach/artichoke type dip you'd like
1 package Panko bread crumbs
1 jar of sliced jalapenos

This is super easy and adaptable! Decide how much dip you'll need - decide on the serving dish and scoop out enough dip that will fill the bottom of the dish. Think about how spicy you want to make it and chop up that amount of jalapenos and mix into the dip, and taste periodically until the dip is spicy enough for you. Spread the jalapeno-spiked dip into your serving dish and sprinkle a layer of panko bread crumbs on top. Bake at 400 degrees until brown on top/around the edges and the center is warm. Let cool a few minutes before serving so that it isn't too hot for the first person who dips in! Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Twice Baked Yukon Gold Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, Gruyere, and Bacon

Since we have a smoker, we often have people over for a BBQ. The Husband is not a fan of potato salad so that's not anything I'm ever going to make at home (save for a hot bacon german potato salad), so I've looked into other potato dishes, especially ones you can make in advance. The twice baked potato is a perfect match - savory, nice for a special occasion, and you can customize it to your preferences.

I think I originally got the gruyere and caramelized onion idea from a Cooking Light recipe... I forget what they recommended or what made it "light".. who cares! My version uses yukon gold potatoes, adds bacon, and jazzes up the presentation - my favorite way to dress up a twice baked potato is to turn it on it's end. I saw this somewhere on a blog a few years ago and it stuck in my head. It looks very attractive. You could use very small potatoes for bite-sized appetizers, or I have used medium sized potatoes fully expecting guests to take 2 or more (halves). I love potatoes in any fashion, don't you? Too bad I cut them out of my diet most of the time!

Elegant Twice Baked Potatoes - Yukon Gold, Caramelized Onions, Gruyere, and Bacon
By Kitchen Bliss

Base Ingredients:
1-2 medium sized potatoes per person, plus 3 extra for filling
salt and pepper to taste

Customizations I have used:
gruyere cheese (amount varies per how many people you are serving)
bacon - my preference is to bake in the oven and then crumble
1 large onion
green onions or chives
sour cream
heavy cream or milk

More ways to customize:
Fresh herbs besides scallions and chives - whatever your preferences are, thyme, basil, dill, etc.
Cooked veggies besides onions - broccoli, sun dried tomatoes, leeks, celeriac, fennel, roasted garlic, etc.
Cheese, glorious cheese - parmesan, sharp cheddars, cream cheese, swiss in place of gruyere, pimento spread, gouda, creamy havarti, pinconning, etc.
Sour cream

Let me know what great combinations you've come up with!

Bake washed and poked potatoes in a preheated 415 degree oven until fork tender. Let potatoes cool slightly enough to handle them, but still warm enough to spoon out the insides. For the extra potatoes you baked, just peel and set aside in your large bowl.

For the remaining potatoes - Cut each end of the potato off slightly, in order to make a flat end which will be the bottom of your potato cup - very sturdy! Cut each potato in half. Use a spoon (a toddler spoon is usually thinner and the right size for small potatoes) to scoop out the insides but try to leave a 1/4inch thick shell of skin/potato, so that you end up with a cup. Sometimes I make a mistake and scoop too far and reach the bottom of the cup - have no fear, for minor cup breaches, it really doesn't matter - you will be filling it up with mashed potato soon and it will still probably hold up and look OK. No one is looking at the bottom of these things.

Great! The hard part is over. You have a big bowl of potato yumminess to be mashed up with whatever toppings you so choose. In the example photo above, I mashed the potatoes with butter, cream, salt, pepper, lots of sharp cheddar cheese, sliced green onions, crumbled bacon, and some sauteed onions. I used green onions cut on a bias and stuck one in the top of each potato for a cute and tasty decoration. Don't forget to salt and pepper your filling to taste - no one wants any bland potatoes.

The last step is to either put the assembled potatoes in the fridge overnight, maybe with suran wrap on top, or bake them straight away. I would recommend an oven of 375 and bake until warmed through and the cheese is melty. I reserved some shredded cheese and crumbled bacon for the tops for decoration as well. It gives your guests a preview of what deliciousness is inside. After you pull them out of the oven, then top with the fresh herb garnish, if using.

The first time I made this recipe, which I don't think I have a photo of - I used the Cooking Light version of caramelized onions and used gruyere, as noted here (except I added bacon):

  • 2 cups vertically sliced red onion
  • 2 teaspoons sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • garlic clove, minced
  • Melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and sugar; sauté 8 minutes or until browned. Stir in sherry, Worcestershire, thyme, and garlic; cook 1 minute or until liquid evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. 

I hope you enjoy this recipe - I think the presentation is unique but easy enough, and another great tip is you can make these ahead. Then before serving, bake in an oven until heated through and the cheese on top is melty. I'm not sure if you can freeze ahead, but if some one tries it, let me know. I seem to recall twice baked potatoes do usually freeze well, no?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reese's Peanut Butter Brownie Tart - Behind The Husband's Back

Calling all Peanut Butter and Chocolate lovers!!

We were having dinner guests over and I had plenty to do in the realm of dinner so I wanted a tasty, pretty but easy dessert. I also was in the middle of an unusual situation where most of my cake pans were in boxes and possibly in storage, though I was in my new house already. One thing I did have was my fluted false bottom tart pan. It's pretty big, 10 inches wide and 1 inch deep. I had this idea if I could use a brownie base in a tart pan shape, then I could maybe do some embellishments to make it into something new and special. 

I'm not above using box mixes if I feel like it, and my favorite brownie mix is any kind of Ghirardelli. One of their brownie boxes - I usually go for Double chocolate - fills up my tart pan nicely. It baked in about the same time as you would expect a single layer of short brownies to bake - maybe a little less if your tart pan is bigger than your brownie pan, maybe more if vise versa - so keep your eye on it. 

I cannot remember the specifics but The Husband was going to be out of town yet we were hosting some of his relatives whom we see maybe once a year. His sister and family and parents were there too so it was a nice group. This was a chance to make something The Husband hates and I never get to make - anything involving peanut butter! I love peanut butter. I know there are tons of people who don't like it. I, however, love love love it. We were having salmon for dinner, and PB/Chocolate in no way makes any sense for dessert, but I didn't care. The Husband was out of town and my mind was made up.

I had never made peanut butter frosting before and selected a recipe and it was ridiculously good. I would use it again in a heartbeat on chocolate cupcakes, chocolate cake... Anything. For this peanut butter lover's chocolate tart, there were two other things I did to push it over the top. First I took several Reese's Peanut Butter cups and placed them inside of the brownie batter which I had just spread into the tart pan. I put in maybe 6 or more, so that every piece when sliced liked a pie, would get some extra peanut butter goodness. Lastly, after quickly piping on a basic design (just using a snipped ziploc bag as my pastry bag filled with the soft peanut butter frosting), I took it to one more degree of delish by adding toppings: some roasted spanish peanuts sprinkled on top, some shaved chocolate curls (use a vegetable peeler on a bar of any kind of chocolate), and a drizzle of Sander's milk chocolate hot fudge dessert topping (which, if you are from metro Detroit, is a decadent splurge just on its own).

Was it all too much? Probably, but I love chocolate and peanut butter and was sorry I only had a small triangle since we had so many people over. I sent the last piece with our out-of-town relatives instead of hoarding it like a pig (though it did cross my piglet mind). A small piece was great with some ice cream - the Reese's PB cups were taken over by the dark fudgy brownies and rich and sweet peanut butter frosting. Yes, it was sweet on sweet on sweet. Probably wouldn't win any Top Chef competitions due to its lack of balance.. and store bought brownie mix. I'm OK with that! It was delicious and you probably know a chocolate and peanut butter lover as well - I know they will love this easy dessert.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Brownie Tart
By Kitchen Bliss

1 box Ghirardelli brownie mix
1 recipe Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frostin' (see recipe below)
6 or 8 Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

Optional Toppings:
Sander's milk chocolate hot fudge topping
1 chocolate bar, such as semi sweet, bittersweet, milk chocolate
1/2 cup of spanish peanuts

Mix up brownie batter according to directions on box and spread into a large tart pan with removable bottom (10 inches wide, 1 inch tall -- or use a 10 inch springform pan). Unwrap Reese's PB cups and press into the brownie batter in whatever pattern you'd like. Bake according to box, checking early and remove from oven when just set, for fudgy brownies.

Mix up peanut butter frosting recipe. After brownie cools, remove from springform pan or tart pan and transfer to serving plate. Decorate with frosting in any manner you choose and then top with toppings.

Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frostin'

Originally from the recipe seen on the A Cooking Bookworm blog.

1 block (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup (half a stick) softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2/3 cup of creamy peanut butter (do not use 'natural,' the kind you need to stir)
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream

Cream the soft cream cheese (nuke it in the microwave for a few seconds, if you forgot to leave it out for a few hours) and together with a mixer. Stir in vanilla and peanut butter. Slowly add the powdered sugar and add enough cream or milk to make it spreadable or pipe-able - whatever consistency you'd like. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Kitchen Bliss Favorite: Delicious Shortbread Cutout Cookies

I am often looking for simple recipes with natural ingredients and no nuts so that I can feel good about sending in a home baked treat with my young children to school. For Son #1's birthday, I know he doesn't care for cake and besides his obligatory birthday cake and ice cream for his party, which he didn't touch, I wanted to make him something he loves - cookies. I ordered some cute dinosaur cookie cutters from Amazon and it matched a few other dino-themed things I had going on for the party. I quickly made up a basic icing out of powder sugar and milk with some fun colors and sent a big batch of iced dinosaur cut outs for his class in pre-school and served the rest at the party. These cookies were soo good. I liked them way better than cake and ice cream, too. You could spend a lot more time decorating them than I did (I spared you the close up photo of the sloppy dino decor), and they were a bit delicate but dinosaur cookies have a lot of small body parts sticking out which easily break off. The taste and quality were worth it. I would possibly roll them out thicker so they would hold up better next time, like I did with the hearts below.

When Valentine's Day rolled around, I wanted to make this recipe again and create simple cut out hearts for Son #2's potluck lunch at school. Since the kids are only 1 year old, just simple sprinkles on top were a fitting decoration and made this a doable recipe on a busy weeknight.

I found this recipe by googling "bakery style cut out cookies" and eventually finding a recommendation to this shortbread Joy of Baking recipe. I love it, I will definitely only use this recipe for cut out cookies going forward.

See Recipe Below, originally from: Joy of Baking

Shortbread Cookies:

2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 cup (2 sticks) (226 grams) unsaltedbutter, room temperature
1/2 cup (60 grams) powdered (confectioners or icing) sugar
1 teaspoon (4 grams) pure vanilla extract

In a separate bowl whisk the flour with the salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth and creamy (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes).  Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.  Flatten the dough into a disk shape, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill the dough for at least an hour or until firm.  (I found the less it chilled, the easier to roll and cut - and then just make sure to chill it again after cutting out shapes, before baking - shapes held up great!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) with the rack in the middle of the oven.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough into a 1/4 inch (.6 cm) thick circle.  Cut into rounds or other shapes using a lightly floured cookie cutter.  Place on the prepared baking sheets and place in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. (This will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain their shape when baked.) Bake for 8 - 10 minutes, or until cookies are very lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Hosting a Friendsgiving

I wasn't too familiar with the concept of a "Friendsgiving" but I did know some of our friends in Chicago would host one - many of them not Chicago natives, would travel home for the holiday, so they decided to gather on a different day with local friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. Friendsgiving is a great way to extend the turkey-related festivities - sometimes you can't travel home for the holiday or can't see everyone you'd like to. Try hosting a Friendsgiving! A few of our Chicago friends recently moved back to Michigan so we were very excited to not only be able to participate this year, but host the first Michigan edition of "Friendsgiving."

You can stick to traditional Thanksgiving foods that you know and love, or it can be a great time to try new twists on traditions, try out new recipes, and share new experiences. I seriously contemplated attempting a Turducken. I researched it for days - three meats layered with three types of stuffings - this could be really good! I also kept running into reviews of it being "just so-so" and eventually we decided on going a different route that we were more familiar with - a deep fried turkey.

You can organize your Friendsgiving any way you'd like, but our friends typically conducted it in a "pot-luck style" fashion. The host handles the turkey, gravy, etc - and the other invitees fill in the menu with other holiday favorites like stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, rolls, vegetables, desserts and appetizers. You can really great creative with menu items and the pot-luck style helps spread out the cooking effort.

This was our first formal dinner party in our new house and I spent most of the time just prepping the house, unpacking my party serveware and making updates to personalize our home a little.

Did you see that magnetic chalkboard with the Friendsgiving sign above? That was one of my little projects I just had to do the week before the party. I had wanted a magnet board somewhere in the kitchen as well as a chalkboard, but some of the custom ones online looked quite expensive and never combined them both. Then, when I was at Ikea, I saw they had a totally affordable magnetic board and they said you could cover it with fabric and hot glue it in the back- cool, that's something I can do! More graphic prints that I love! I quickly googled to see if there were any magnetic backed chalkboards and Amazon had this awesome "ziggy board" which is way better than a chalkboard because these pens are brighter, easier to use, and wipe right off with water. Love it! Now I can use the chalkboard for reminders or menu lists, and use my personalized magnets for invites and other papers. When I get sick of the pattern, I can just rip it off and change it.

My mom is a wreath wiz and made me this super cute fall wreath (I glittered the B and added that), too bad hardly anyone uses our front door! Haha! I pressed these leaves and used some for decorations on my table as well. My mom was a big help with this party and she listened to all my ideas and gave me lots of great advice on the food and decorating!

I decided on a buffet-style way to serve the food - lay it all out in the kitchen for everyone to help themselves - and this left more room for decorating the table. This was more elaborate than I've ever done in the past so I had a lot of fun buying a new chevron runner from Etsy, making nice floral arrangements, pressing leaves, and adding other touches of fall decor with candles.

I also went to Nino's and got a cool assortment of fall and unusual flowers and made 3 flower arrangements - two with a white/green/yellow theme and one big red and yellow one for the table centerpiece. I used raffia to tie around the vases for extra decoration. It was really fun!!

More flowers on the table and also an extra arrangement in a green vase - even several days later I am enjoying the flowers!

I also was trying to bring in the old with the new - I hadn't cared for the design on my grandmother's china set that my mom was thinking of donating to good will, until I was planning for this party and realized it's perfect for a fall dinner. Plus, it has more meaning than just buying something new - it had a gold leaf pattern. My mom also has many wine and champagne glasses with gold and even a gold stainless steel silverware set - but! How was this going to go with my already ordered gray chevron table runner and silver/gray pattern curtains? Ah ha - a gold and silver, old and new - theme! I bought some cheap silver chargers from Bed Bath and Beyond and added raffia and silver ribbon with the napkins, and I think the overall look was a good mix of old and new, modern and traditional, silver and gold. It was really fun to plan it all out!

Now on to the best part - let's talk about all the food! I did not do a great job taking a picture of the appetizers or desserts, but I can still describe everything. I tried a few new recipes which I would definitely make again.

First and foremost, spiced nuts from Martha Stewart! They were the very yummiest homemade nuts I've ever had. I got the idea from watching "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" where Giada was talking about some rosemary nuts from a bar/restaurant in NYC. I tried that recipe the weekend before Friendsgiving but it was not quite sweet enough and too salty. Martha had a similar recipe but featured more butter and sugar so I knew that would be perfect and it was! The only thing her recipe was missing was a dash of cayenne so I added that, but it could have used some more to get a little spice going. Definitely try these - it's a perfect appetizer for holiday cocktail parties, the rosemary is very interesting and matches great especially with pecans - I used about 90% pecans vs the other nuts.

See Martha Stewart's recipe for Roasted Rosemary Nuts below! It's so yummy!
Rosemary Roasted Nuts
Adapted from Martha Stewart's recipe here. 

2 cups mixed nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, and pecans
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
Coarse salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I added this myself - add spice to your taste preference!)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast nuts until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat butter, sugar, and rosemary over medium-high. Add nuts; stir until butter mixture is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Spread nuts on prepared baking sheet; season with salt. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 15 minutes.

When I made it, I had extra butter/sugar chunks and it made for really tasty large brittle-like texture. I made three batches (6 cups of nuts) and had 1 cup leftover, for 11 people. They were delicious the next day, as well, so this is a good make-ahead dish. The problem is it's hard to ever have any leftover! We had impromptu guests a few days later so I made a 1.5 batch and I wish I had made more, it was only 3 people eating but it's mostly gone!

I had a selection of cheese and crackers - Costco had an interesting "tapas" selection of Manchego, Tipsy Goat and Iberico - pre-sliced which was convenient. The Londoner was gross though, I will not try that again! The blue cheese was fabulous though no one liked it plain however it played a key role in my next new appetizer recipe that I tried, which was a big hit - Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese!

I forgot to take a picture, but I used cute bamboo skewers with a twist at one end to secure them. Bacon is obviously delicious and this is a great tapas-style appetizer that is easy to put together and can be served room temperature! I tried this recipe the week before with my mom, half with goat cheese with herbs and half with blue cheese. I liked the herbs but the blue cheese gave the best tang! The dates are sweet like caramel candy, the bacon is salty and smokey, and the blue cheese inside breaks it all up with a tangy bite. Yum! Here is a photo of what they look like from the blog The Sweets Life:

They have the same recipe on their blog that I used from
Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Blue Cheese
1/2 pound bacon cut in half
16 plump medjool dates, pits removed
2 or 3 oz blue cheese

Spoon blue cheese into the center of each date and wrap with a half slice of bacon, then secure with a tooth pick or wooden skewer. Bake in the oven at 375 for 30-40 minutes until the bacon is crispy. If some of the cheese melts out, that's OK. These can be served warm or room temperature and they weren't half bad reheated the next day for leftovers!

Of course your guests who do not like blue cheese will not go for these, as The Husband would not try them, but it's worth it for the rest of us who love blue cheese. For me, I only want one or two of these, but many of my friends really had several and enjoyed them quite a bit.  They are a wonderful addition to a cocktail party especially if you are going for a tapas theme! Try them with your favorite cheese, too. I tried a Danish Blue from Papa Joe's and an American Blue from Costco, both were tangy but the Danish Blue was creamier. I got the dates from Costco as well - I buy these often, the boys and my parents love them!
Finally, I had planned on using my appetizer spoons somehow and was going to make shrimp. However, I eventually decided against it and bought some sushi and put one slice on each spoon and had a few different kinds of rolls for my 18 spoons. I put the soy sauce and ginger on top and there was also wasabi there and everything was ready in a bite-size package - forget the chop sticks! I thought it was a good way to use appetizer spoons with not much effort. I forgot to take a picture the day of so this was just a recreation that I did a few days later.

I was looking up ideas for fall cocktails and came across a Pear / Prosecco combination from Claire Robinson which I wanted to try. This was my "welcome" cocktail and it was pretty tasty though I'm not a big anise/licorice fan. Of course it's more of a girly drink and I wasn't thinking about the fact that most of my guests were either children, pregnant or men. Those of us who tried it enjoyed it and now I have a bottle of pear liqueur to figure out what to do with! I used my mom's gold champagne glasses on a silver tray for presentation. Would I make it again? No. But, it looked cool. As an aside, have you seen these super cute chalkboards I'm using for labeling foods? I saw them at Crate and Barrel a year or two ago and finally got to use them for this party. They came with some chalk but the ziggy pen from my ziggy board worked WAY better! Love it!

Anise and Pear Bubbly
Recipe from Claire Robinson, found here here
2 cups pear nectar
1 cup pear liqueur (recommended: Poire William)
2 star anise
4 bottles Prosecco
16 cranberries
In a small saucepan over moderate heat, add the nectar, pear liqueur and star anise. Bring up to a boil and turn heat off. Allow to steep for 5 minutes, then discard the star anise. Cool to room temperature and chill until ready to use.

To serve, drop 1 cranberry to the bottom of each champagne coupe or flute. Add 2 tablespoons of the spiced pear mixture for coupe glasses and 3 tablespoons for the flute glasses. Top with Prosecco and enjoy!

I liked the cranberry floating in the glass. I only opened one bottle of sparkling wine, Asti Spumanti, as that was more than plenty for the two people who were partaking!

After frying our cajun-seasoned (cajun and poultry seasoning rub and creole butter injection) 18 lb turkey for an hour or so, it was perfectly golden brown. I should have taken a picture of it before carving but trust me in saying it had the most beautiful crispy brown skin! Success! Our friend expertly carved it and he did a wonderful job, it looked beautiful on the platter and all of the sides that everyone contributed looked great, too. Finally it was time to eat! We had 11 adults and the 18 lb turkey was just the right size, hardly any leftovers.

I had decided on buffet style serving so the kitchen counter was cleared off and I used my new leaf-cut place mats as a backdrop for the food. Everything was delicious! We had Chris' sausage apple cornbread stuffing, Karen's sweet potatoes, Tom and Gwen's baked garlic green beans and rolls, Megan's cranberry relish and corn, and I finished out the dinner with classic mashed potatoes (inside that adorable ceramic bird serving dish - isn't that adorable?) and gravy. It was all so flavorful, everyone really enjoyed it and we were stuffed, and we haven't even gotten to dessert yet!

I didn't get all the recipes from everyone but everyone totally loved Karen's sweet potatoes - check out her recipe below - I have always wanted to try one of these casseroles with the marshmallows on top and I was so glad she brought this!!

Karen's Sweet Potato Casserole
Yield: 16 servings


2 ¼ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup half and half (may substitute whole milk for a lighter version)
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
Cooking spray

1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows
½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup packed brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup chopped pecans, toasted

1.              Preheat oven to 375°.
2.              To prepare potatoes, place potatoes in a dutch oven, and cover with water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until very tender.  Drain; cool slightly.
3.              Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Add half-and-half, ¾ cup sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and vanilla.  Beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth.  Add eggs, beat well (mixture will be thin).  Scrape mixture into a 13” x 9” baking dish coated with cooking spray.
4.              To prepare topping, sprinkle miniature marshmallows over top of casserole.  Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, level with a knife.  Combine flour, ¼ cup sugar, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl.  Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in pecans, and sprinkle over potato mixture and marshmallows.  Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

The rolls, butter, gravy boats, cranberries and wine is ready and waiting at the table for us!

Next, let's talk about desserts! Andrea brought a lovely French apple cake which was chock full of apple and Megan made a delicious pumpkin pie from Crate and Barrel / Cook's Illustrated. She had put a lot of work into a homemade crust and the special preparation and wasn't sure about it but I loved it - it came out perfect. I found the recipe online - check it out below:

Pumpkin Pie 

by Cook's Illustrated as seen here.

Serves 8

Why This Recipe Works: Too often, pumpkin pie appears at the end of a Thanksgiving meal as a grainy, overspiced, canned ­pumpkin custard encased in a soggy crust. We wanted to create a pumpkin pie destined to be a new classic: velvety smooth, packed with pumpkin flavor, and redolent of just enough fragrant spices. To concentrate its flavor, we cooked the canned pumpkin with sugar and spices, then whisked in heavy cream, milk, and eggs. This improved the flavor and the hot filling helped the custard firm up quickly in the oven, preventing it from soaking into the crust. For spices, we chose nutmeg, cinnamon, and, surprisingly, freshly grated ginger. Sugar and maple syrup sweetened things, but for more complex flavor, we added mashed roasted yams to the filling (switching to canned candied yams streamlined the procedure). To keep the custard from curdling, we started the pie at a high temperature for 10 minutes, followed by a reduced temperature for the remainder of the baking time. This cut the baking time to less than an hour and the dual temperatures produced a creamy pie fully and evenly cooked from edge to center.
Make sure to buy unsweetened canned pumpkin; avoid pumpkin pie mix. If candied yams are unavailable, regular canned yams can be substituted. The crust must still be warm when the filling is added. When the pie is properly baked, the center 2 inches of the pie should look firm but jiggle slightly. The pie finishes cooking with residual heat; to ensure that the filling sets, let it cool at room temperature and not in the refrigerator. Serve with 
whipped cream.

  • 1 recipe Foolproof Single-Crust Pie Dough (see related recipe)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin purée
  • 1 cup canned candied yams, drained
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Lay pie dough on generously floured counter and roll dough outward from its center into 12-inch circle. Loosely roll dough around rolling pin and gently unroll it over 9-inch pie plate. Lift dough and gently press it into pie plate, letting excess hang over plate’s edge.
2. Using kitchen shears, trim all but 1/2 inch of dough overhanging edge of pie plate. Tuck dough underneath itself to form tidy, even edge that sits on lip of pie plate. Use index finger of one hand and thumb and index finger of other hand to create fluted ridges perpendicular to edge of pie plate. Wrap dough-lined pie plate loosely in plastic and freeze until dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
3. Line chilled pie crust with double layer of aluminum foil, covering edges to prevent burning, and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake until pie dough looks dry and is pale in color, 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Transfer pie plate to wire rack and remove weights and foil. Return crust to oven and continue to bake until deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes longer. Transfer to wire rack and let cool slightly. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
5. While crust bakes, whisk cream, milk, eggs and yolks, and vanilla together in bowl. Bring pumpkin, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg to simmer in large saucepan and cook, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Remove saucepan from heat and whisk in cream mixture until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer into bowl, using back of ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer. Whisk mixture, then pour into warm prebaked pie crust.
7. Place pie on prepared sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and continue to bake until edges of pie are set and center registers 175 degrees, 25 to 45 minutes longer. Let pie cool on wire rack to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Serve.

Also my mom was nice enough to participate even though she wasn't attending, and she made delicious spice cookies and buckeyes. I also couldn't resist getting some cupcake-shaped chocolates and belgium chocolate cups from Costco just to add some items to the dessert table.

Last but not least, did you see that super cute fruit turkey? This was an idea I saw online and it was one of the first things I did to prepare Saturday and then I covered it and put it in the garage to chill and totally forgot to serve it! I noticed it after all the kids were done eating - oh well - I brought it out at the last minute and we enjoyed most of it the next day as well. I used a pear and jabbed in the skewers and then cut a clementine for the beak and fixed it on with a toothpick, along with the strawberry underneath and a sliced blueberry for the eyes - also fixed on with toothpicks. Cute!

I hope you enjoyed all of my fall recipes and Friendsgiving ideas! We are very blessed to have wonderful friends and family and very thankful everyone could make it. I hope you try a Friendsgiving or some new recipes for your Thanksgiving meal - let me know your favorite recipes!