Cheesecake stuffed strawberries

November 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

So for one of the many shindigs that I’ve been involved with over the last few months, I made these little tasty bites, cheesecake stuffed strawberries!  I came across a number of postings online for them and used the recipe over at SugarDerby as my guide.  If you’re on the hunt for a great treat to bring to holiday gatherings, this one should be in the running.

The only alteration I made to the Sugar Derby recipe is that I didn’t use the graham crackers to keep them gluten free, and instead of the chocolate drizzle, I used some leftover chocolate buttercream i had left over from a cake I made the day before.

All-in-all I think these took about 30 minutes to prep, and I just placed them in the fridge over night.  Ta-da!  These went fast.  One of the few things I’ve made that I haven’t had leftovers to bring home!  Happy making.

Making baby food: What I’ve learned so far

October 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

Everyone has an opinion about things when you have a baby, and when and what you feed your baby is definitely one of them.  This is not a preachy post about why you should choose to make your baby’s food.  This is just me, telling you what I’ve learned.

Honestly, I had no intention of going down this bunny trail, but once I started I was really glad I did.  For one, I know exactly what this kid is eating; and two, it’s super cheap.  The affordable part is mostly due to the incredible Sprouts store close by.

Everything I learned, I’ve learned from the Wholesome Baby Food website.  They have easy-to-follow recipes, and once you make a few things, you get the process down pretty quick.  On this week’s menu: pears!  I started with some beautiful pears and my trusty apple corer from Pampered Chef.  It’s a really amazingly handy contraption that makes the prep process fly by.  Basically, you start by peeling and slicing the fruit and placing it in a big pot.

To that pot, you add a little water–1/4 to 1/2 a cup depending on how much fruit you have.  Then you fire up the burner and bring the water to a boil.  Reduce it to a simmer and let it go for about 15 minutes or so.  Then you are going to spoon the fruit (minus the liquid) into a food processor or blender and let it run until you have a beautiful puree.

You want your puree to be pretty smooth, but the food will still have a texture–as you can see here, there are some flecks from the fruit skin (which you should wash thoroughly before cutting it up).  I use a food processor, but you can use a blender.  The blender will be problematic with some foods as you’ll have to stop and stir it to distribute the chunks down to the blades.  There are a lot of pricey “baby food maker” machines out there, but I really don’t see a need for one–the food processor has met all of my needs so far, and it’s not a one-trick-pony.

Ice trays are another piece to the puzzle–again, there are tons of food storage items specifically for baby food, but if you’re looking for an economical solution, the ice tray works great.  Each cube in my trays holds about 1 ounce of food, so it’s easy to calculate how much our little guy is getting.  I fill the tray with the puree, and into the freezer they go for at least four hours or overnight.  Then you’re ready to pop out your cubes and store them.

To pop out cubes, like this spinach here or the pears from earlier, you just run a little bit of water on the back of the tray for 10 to 15 seconds and then presto, they should come out easy-peasy.  I store the cubes in freezer bags, but you could also go with plastic containers if you wanted to use a dishwasher safe storage system.  You can then store the baggies or containers in your freezer, and then at meal time, you just pull out however many cubes you need of whatever variety, and dinner is served.

From start to finish, I spend about 4 hours on the weekend pepping Baby Mac’s food for the week.  It’s usually enough for at least a week, with some left over to use for variety in the coming weeks.  We date all of the bags so that we use then in a timely manner, and we choose to microwave his food for 30 seconds to thaw it.  Some will recommend thawing slowly instead of using a microwave, but we haven’t experienced any problems, and this is really a personal preference.  Also on the personal preference list is the order you introduce foods–most recommend starting with veggies and then going to fruit.  Our pediatrician recommended a 4-day waiting period between food introductions, and no matter what you decide, you should talk to your pediatrician before choosing a feeding path.

Lessons learned: 1) This is so not hard.  It’s actually incredibly easy.  When I realized that I could just cut open an avocado or banana, mash it, and feed it to him, it was a huge light bulb moment.  2) It’s fun.  I’m having a great time trying out new foods with him and coming up with clever combinations to keep meal-time interesting. 3) It’s way easier to grocery shop this way–no special run down the baby food aisle, just whatever seasonal produce looks good that day that is on his schedule. 4) It’s eased my guilt.  I felt guilty for going to just formula at five months, and I’ve even felt the twinge of guilt every now and then about working.  This is my guilt relief–it makes me feel like I’m doing something really good for him. 4) Did I mention affordable?  Yeah, so, when you read up on baby food and all that goes with this decision, there’s lots of stuff out there, and once you start thinking, “Maybe I should buy XYZ organic brand,” and then you add up how much per day that will run you, four hours in the kitchen on a Saturday morning will seem like nothing!

Happy baby food making!

To-go favor: dirt dessert

September 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

So for the Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails Shower we wanted to have an easy take-home favor to go with the theme, and what says “little boy” more than dirt?  I remembered the “dirt” desserts from my youth and recreated them in jars for take-home favors.

I started with two Jello Temptation mixes to use as my main guide for the jello and mouse components, and then I picked up some chocolate cookies with vanilla creme, some cool whip, and a package of gummy worms, along with two dozen 6 oz. jars.

I started by crushing the cookies to form a base in each jar.  I added some melted butter to the crushed cookie and placed it in the bottom, and then began layering the jello and mouse, finishing with a dollop of whipped topping.

I then went back and added a spoonful of crushed cookie and placed a gummy worm on top to give it that extra boy feel.  I cut out the cute Thank You 2 inch round labels from Frills Market, and placed one on the top of each metal jar with a little bit of scrapbooking tape.

I placed the jars in the fridge over night to let them set up, and then I set them up at the shower in baskets by the guest book for folks to grab on the way out.  They were an easy and tasty to-go treat.  No one’s every enjoyed eating dirt more!

Cake balls: take two

September 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

My second attempt at cake balls came for Mr. Colin’s shower, and I’m glad that I had the chance to apply what I learned from Round 1 to this batch.  I think this round was a bit more successful. Yay for progress!

The first thing I did was use less frosting than originally advised.  Everything I read at first led me to using an entire can of store bought frosting.  This time, I used only half a can of the Duncan Hines “creamy” homemade style cream cheese frosting.  This seemed to give me a better mix to start out with.

Then I just did straight balls and didn’t worry about making the balls into “pops” with the sticks.  I still jazzed them up with cupcake liners and cellophane bags with ties, but not actually pops, which saved me time and frustration.

I also kept them in the freezer and worked in smaller batches this time.  Instead of pulling out an entire pan, I only did like six or eight at a time.  Then I would reheat my coating and pull out another half dozen or so to work on.  This seemed to give me a more consistent result.

I still have a lot to learn about these little decadent desserts, but this second attempt already proved leaps and bounds better in terms of efficiency and taste.  I recently came across this write up with some other tips to consider.  The article itself is a little trite, but skip down to the tips, and there are some good thoughts to chew on.

Happy baking!

Frogs and snails and puppy dog tails: a shower story

September 9, 2011 § 3 Comments

One of my very dear friends is welcoming a sweet baby boy in just a few short months.  I secretly think she’s doing it so that Ben will have someone to play with, but she tells me that she and her husband had this planned for a while.  Anywho, what’s a baby without a welcome party? Since she has a little bit of everything boy going on in the nursery, we decided the shower should also be all things boy, so we decided on a Frogs, and Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails theme!

This shower was exciting for me on a lot of levels, but mostly because of the food, the desserts, the theme, and the invitations! The invitations (look at the first pic!) were designed by the fabulous Kara Leone, who I have bragged about a multitude of times here.  After hours of online searching turned up only one mediocre invite, I pleaded for her help, and she managed to hit another amazing home run.  She drew the dog and frog and snails! Love that lady.  More about her later because we were able to use the invitation design in a number of ways throughout the shower.

My fabulous friend offered up her lovely home and was the hostess with the mostess.  She even made these super cute polyhedron ceiling hangings that we found over here.  Two different colors of paper plates, some staples, and some patience yielded these show-stopping hangers. She put them together and had them hung over the food table to add a fun touch.  The food table was decked out with all kinds of amazing finger sandwiches, a beautiful vegetable spread in vases, and an incredible pasta salad.  Not to mention some cute labels for everything adapted from Kara’s design.

The vegetable spread was put together in a group of vases, and we were able to use the beautiful blue dish, courtesy of Grandma Amy, for the dip.  It was a really colorful take on the typical veggie spread, and the pop of color really made the table. Kudos to the creative gal Ashley with the vision for this piece.

Of course, veggies were just a first course.  There was the lemon cake with vanilla bean buttercream that I mentioned to you before, and these amazing cake balls.  I will tell you that the cake ball adaptations with less frosting and no lollipop sticks turned out fantastic, and they filled this tiered tray beautifully. Of course, we tied them with puppy paw print ribblon and some Minny Muu fabric from their Little French Town collection.  These were joined by the lemon cake, the train cake, and some adorable duckie cookies that had an orange glaze on them. Needless to say, there were a few desserts.

There were also a few decorations! These little hats and onesies took their places over the mantle, and my friend did an amazing job attaching the little beanies to the frame to create a beautiful center piece.  She had a sign with the them, along with wiffle balls in multiple colors and adorable pull toys to match decorating the mantle for mom-to-be to take home with her. And…there were a few gifts. Just a few.  Girls…we go overboard.  Sigh.  There were even customized onesies with baby’s name on them! We all took a theme…airplanes, sports, puppies, cars, construction…and brought a corresponding outfit for the clothesline.  It turned out adorable, and big shout out to the hostesses who made that come together in a unique way.

There was a shower.  So, I made a quilt.  This one was inspired by the primary colors in the little tyke’s bedding, but I did manage to get a few creative touches in there.  After a tutorial from Grandma Amy, which I’ll tell you more about later, I was able to combine the quilt top with a super soft backing so that this little guy would have a snuggly tummy time blanket to use this winter.  The fabrics are a mix of Grandma Amy vintage, Minny Muu imported from Japan depicting “A Little French Town,” and some appliques that I pieced to mimic the drawings in the Minny Muu.  It turned out great, and I’ll be sure to share more details about this piece later.

The other thing from my sewing machine for this shower was the cute little pennant that greeted guests.  It was my first attempt at what I think is referred to as free needle embroidery. Grandma Amy came over and gave me a tutorial, but in no way am I qualified to pass on her tips here.  It’s basically a lot of trial and error and referring to your Bernina manual on the subject.  All I can tell you is that, if you’re attempting this, remember that your needle is the center line.  Not the right or the left, but the center.  A little rick-rack and this was pretty cute.

Before guests could leave, I hounded them into taking a little “dirt-to-go” as their favor.  These sweet little jars were topped with a one-of-a-kind thank you from Kara, and filled with a jello/mouse/whip cream/gummy worm concoction that I’ll explain better later.  The layered dessert fit in perfectly with our theme, and the personalized topper made them a real stand out. Yes to Success! We put them in baskets for guests to take as they left.

We couldn’t have asked for a better turn out or a better group of gals to host this shindig.  It came together in a truly memorable way, and I can’t credit these ladies enough.  Here’s to a happy, healthy, playmate for King Baby–Cheers!

Lemon cake: baking from a mix

September 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s no shame here.  The last few cakes I’ve made have…gasp…not been from scratch.  Nope.  They’ve been from a mix.  A doctored mix, mind you; but a mix.  I’m here to say, “It’s okay–come out of the shadows–mixes are good!”

Mixes are so good in fact, that the very first cake decorating class I took, the woman (a professional baker and owner of a bakery) explained that most bakeries use mixes.  She did clarify that she, and the cake divas at Wilton, only use Duncan Hines.  After straying once or twice, I can also attest to the consistency of DH mixes.  But, the key to a good cake from a mix is more than just the brand.

A big part of making a successful cake from a mix is adding a few fresh ingredients to it.  For the lemon cake we had for a friend’s shower this weekend, I added in some fresh lemon zest and some fresh squeezed lemon juice.  And, if you don’t have leeway to do that, then you can still apply a few basic tips to make your mix taste like it’s homemade goodness:

1. Eggs at room temperature shouldn’t be optional.  You would be surprised what a difference this makes.  More than that though, this tip starts at the grocery store–you should really be buying extra large or jumbo eggs to use in your mixes.  Small and medium sized eggs will not give you the same results that extra large eggs will.  Once you make the switch, you’ll never go back.

2. While I will condone a mix for the cake any day, canned frosting is only acceptable when you’re making cake balls.  I know–this is a little harsh.  I’m throwing down the tough love on this one.  No. Canned. Frosting.  It’s gross once you’ve had the real thing, and the real thing is not rocket science.  Yes, it calls for a thermometer, but it’s not science.  Or chemistry, or whatever. I looked for a similar recipe online to mine, but I can’t find one, so apparently I need to do a post just for buttercream! (I will.  Swear.) The point is–save time on your cake so you can rock it out on the frosting.

3. Finally, when you have the chance, be creative.  The recipe calls for milk? Try a little sour cream or buttermilk mixed with the milk to add richness.  It’s a vanilla cake, or vanilla buttercream? Scrape out the inside of a vanilla bean to add some fresh vanilla flecks.  Chocolate cake or frosting? Add in a mix of dark and semisweet grated, melted chocolate where you can.  The key is to keep the overall measurement the same, but add in some fresh where you can.  Happy mixing!

Baby shower round up: cowgirl up

September 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

My cousin is welcoming a little gal to the family in just a few short weeks, and we had a great time putting together a shower for her.  Galilee Bell is going to have a cowgirl room, so we followed suit and decided to get her cowgirled-up.

Amazingly, I did manage to get a really sweet quilt wrangled and done for little missy before the big day, but in the rush of things, I didn’t take any photos!  The super talented Aunt Peggy helped me stitch the last of the quilt together, and in my hurry to get just one (okay…three!) last three things stitched, I didn’t mess with the camera.  But, the day of turned out amazing, and here’s all the cuteness:

You can’t possibly have a cowgirl shower without sweet tea and pink lemonade, but this lemonade has a twist, or rather a pump.  We added in some vanilla syrup (like the kind used in coffee) to taste–talk about a quick and easy punch alternative!  These sweet boots (center) are my husband’s from when he was a tyke, but they fit perfectly in the hall tree and helped set the mood when you walked in the door along with the cowboy hats we hung.  The other decor touch was a sweet rocking horse wall hanging that had actually been in my cousin’s room as a baby.  My aunt dusted it off and replaced all the ribbons to bring it up to date and ready to give some other little girl dreams of rainbows and ponies.

The quilt we did get photos of is this darling wall hanging.  Inspired by the Martha Stewart shirt pocket wall hanging, my super talented aunts went the denim and corduroy pocket route with a little animal print thrown in for good measure.  They had the center square embroidered with baby girl’s name, and we filled all the pockets with fun goodies for mom-to-be.  And, of course, no cowgirl is worth her salt if she doesn’t have a trusty stick horse!  The pink bandana fabric tied it all together, and we ran a sweet lasso-inspired decorative stitch around the binding of the entire square.

Speaking of personalized flair, we had a fun time adding her name to a number of touches throughout the shower.  The fabulous designer Kara Leone, who did the number print for Baby Mac’s room, whipped up a special cowgirl-inspired print complete with Galilee’s name on it! Then the aunts-to-be baked up these sweet sugar cookies pressed with “Welcome Galilee” using the really cool Message-in-a-Cookie set from Williams Sonoma.  And, the grandma-to-be picked up this sweet charm from a specialty shop in Louisiana for momma to commemorate her two blessings.

We found cute little metal signs that momma can use in the nursery to decorate the tables throughout the shower.  Soft peppermint sticks and candy-filled mason jars took center stage with a collection of My Little Ponies and pink bandanas.  Did I mention we used pink?

The Welcome Galilee cookies were joined on the dessert table by these amazing Texas Sheet Cake cupcakes.  I’ve regaled you with tales of Texas Sheet Cake before, but the adaptation to a cupcake was genius!  The key I think is the liner that we used.  You can order these tulip style liners from Amazon and they’ll prevent any dripping from occurring.  You can see here that we used them in brown and white and just used a cupcake holder to display them.  The fabric underneath is just a sheer pink and paisley fabric piece overlapped on a white table cloth.

There was tons of great food, and these little smores cakes in a jar were no exception.  A girlfriend of mine pointed me to this recipe over on How Sweet It Is, and I was so glad to finally have a place to try them out.  I modified the recipe slightly to fit these smaller ball jars, and I used miniature marshmallows to give the top more texture.  The dream team of hostesses found this set of rub on scrapbooking decals, and what do you know, they worked perfectly on our metal lids!  They were meant to be a take home, but after everyone popped the metal tops off and put ’em in the microwave for 20 seconds, they were eaten right there on the spot!  And let me just say…they. were. good.

Luckily we had a back up take home favor–these cute bags of trail mix in pink satchels.  My talented cousin cut out squares of pink checked fabric and tied them with twine with little tags that read, “Happy Trails to you.”  It was a nice alternative to all of the super sweets that we had at the shower, and pretty inexpensive as far as favors go.

So much fun getting Miss Galilee ready for her debut.  Now all she has to do is show up.  I’m pretty sure I can think of at least one person who is quite ready for that to happen!

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