Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An American Girl Birthday Party at Home


Arielle started planning her 8th Birthday Party about three days after she turned seven.  She's my planner.  Inspired by our trip to The American Girl Place in Chicago this summer, she finally settled into the idea of creating an American Girl Tea Party - at home!


We started out with photos of the guests (and dolls) on the red carpet.


Fringed doll napkins made a simple and fun craft for the girls while we waited for everyone to arrive. To make these, simply cut 6" x 6" squares of gingham and stitch 1/4" from the edge all the way around.  The girls just "pull the strings" until they get to the stitching line.  Now the dolls have a cloth napkin for the tea!


Decorating the party table was lots of fun.  We took inspiration from the pink and black banquet room at The American Girl Place in Chicago. Putting my Shaker sensibility aside, we went bright and bold with lots of layers.  The table was topped with a white table cloth and bright pink sheer sparkly fabric.  On top  of that was layered black place mats and black and white paper plates.   Tea sets, like the ones at The American Girl Store, are available for purchase and a set went home with each of the girls.

 

Black and pink polka dotted napkins alternated with black gingham napkins and each was secured with a silk gerbera daisy.  Place cards were printed on the computer and accented with black patterned scrapbook paper.


Each chair was tied with pink and black tulle - 


and the gift table was covered with coordinating fabric.


We found conversation starters at the American Girl store. 
The girls had a great time answering the questions.


We kept the food simple.  Fruit Kabobs, Cheetos and Bagel Bites worked because of their kid-friendly deliciousness and their appropriate miniature scale.  Girls and dolls enjoyed mini muffins and cherry 7-up made for a fun pink, sparkly drink!


Here's a great trick that my mom used to use at my birthday parties........


... Pre-scoop the ice cream into cupcake liners!  
The presentation is festive, and it's one less thing to do when it's cake time!
I found these cute scalloped flower liners at JoAnn's Fabric and Crafts!



Happy Birthday, Arielle!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

iheartfaces | Slice of Life


It's hard to remember back just a few months ago when we were playing in this much snow!  This is my daughter, Ella, who, while insisting she wanted to come along to the big hill at the golf course, absolutely refused to get on a sled!  She had fun, nonetheless, with her favorite cousin, Anders.  After watching the other kids wipe out, it led me to wonder, "Who's really the smart one, here?"

For more slice of life photos, visit iheartfaces!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spring Citrus Centerpieces


My friend, Deanna, is completely gifted.  
She can elevate the simplest arrangement into the most stunning centerpiece! 
 Look how beautiful this is!  


I just love how simple slices of citrus become translucent as light passes through a clear, glass vase.


Here's a  trick that I learned from Ina Garten.
When arranging droopy flowers like these beautiful spring tulips,
secure the stems in a bouquet with a rubber band.
It will keep the flowers arranged perfectly.


I hope you are inspired to create a spring citrus centerpiece, too!

Join the fun!  I'm linking up with TidyMom!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pear Tree Haiku



I love the southern spring.  It's that brief inhale of freshness before the sultry summer oppresses our senses.  Of particular delight are the blossoming Bradford Pear Trees with their cottony white blossoms.  Against the deep blue sky, they almost give an infrared glow.  Their contrasting dark stems remind me of a Japanese painting and inspired this haiku:

Pear blossoms glowing
Like artists painting the sky
Sweetness fills the air





Happy Spring!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Cupcakes For A Crowd!


Without a doubt, this was my most challenging baking project to date - making 400 cupcakes!  It was also, without a doubt, my most fun - with the help of several of my amazing friends!

These cupcakes were designed and baked for our school's major annual fundraiser - a silent auction and comedy night.  Small plates were served during the silent auction in our transformed gymnasium and this plated dessert was served in our multi-purpose cafeteria/auditorium during a much anticipated comedy performance.

So how does a home baker begin to bake 400 cupcakes?  By using the school's kitchen, of course!


The committee decided on two kinds of cupcakes:   half chocolate and half white.  I used Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcake recipe because A)  It's delicious, and B) It's relatively easy to make.  All the cupcake ingredients can be mixed together in a single bowl.  Also, it uses oil instead of butter which makes a moist and easily mixed batter.  For the white cupcakes, I made a vanilla-buttermilk cupcake which I adapted from the  chocolate recipe.  The recipes can be found below.

To simplify the process, I bagged double recipes of the dry ingredients at home in gallon Ziploc bags.  This made the process quicker and easier when it came time for baking.


Here's my perfect friend, Kathy, putting brown vellum liners into the cupcake pans.  She is always quick to come to my aid, especially when it was she that volunteered me for the project! (Did I mention that I wasn't even at the meeting to defend myself?)


The extra-large convection ovens in the school's kitchen came in handy for baking multiple pans of cupcakes at one time.  The cupcakes baked in only 13 minutes!  Convection ovens are a bit windy, however, and we ended up with some slightly uneven tops.  Nothing that a good swirl of icing couldn't cover, however!



Above are the trays of baked cupcakes and the trays of chocolate squiggles 
which would serve as our cupcake toppers.


Here's my resourceful and amazing friend, Kelly, who, through no fault of her own, 
was assaulted by a KitchenAid mixer filled with powder sugar!


My completely talented friend, Becky, did an amazing job in helping pipe pounds and pounds of cream cheese icing!  Don't you love her French Maid apron?  Aprons are completely necessary in baking, so you might as well have a cute one!


Here are rows and rows of completed cupcakes.  
I love these tulip baking cup sleeves from Cupcake Swirl! 



They give the humble cupcake so much presence!


Thanks to all who helped with this amazing event!


One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Makes 18 Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Reduce speed to low.  Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, extract and water;  beat until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

2.  Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about two-thirds full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes;  turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.  Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to two months, in airtight containers.


Vanilla Buttermilk Cupcakes

Makes 18 Cupcakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup warm water


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.  With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Reduce speed to low.  Add eggs, buttermilk, oil, extract and water;  beat until smooth and combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.

2.  Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each about two-thirds full.  Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.  Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes;  turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely.  Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to two months, in airtight containers.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups powdered sugar

Cream butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Add vanilla and salt.  Continue to mix.  Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until well blended.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Perry!


Happy Birthday, Dear Husband!

I don't know why I feel obligated to dig up some cute old photo of my husband each year on his birthday.  Perhaps it's because not many exist.  (That's what happens when you are the baby of a large family.)  Perhaps it's because he won't think I love him if I don't embarrass him just a little.  Perhaps it's just to check and see if he's actually reading my blog!

I particularly like this toothless grin, since our daughter, Arielle, who looks just like him, has recently sported a similar smile.  Notice the detail in the dress.....turtleneck, vest, sports coat and pocket scarf.  I'm thinking beatnik/Early Beatles.  But cuter.  Much, much cuter!  I color adjusted this water stained photo for skin tones, and still came up with a magenta shirt.  What can I say?  He's always been man enough to wear pink!!

Feel free to leave your birthday greetings in the comment section below!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A St. Patrick's Day Lunch


The first year I packed my kids an all green lunch for St. Patrick's Day, I had the privilege of volunteering quietly in the school cafeteria.  I watched as they opened their lunch and saw their eyes grow big, contemplating what was set before them.  Maybe it's my slightly twisted sense of humor, but to this day, I think it's one of the funniest tricks I've ever played on my kids.  I know they secretly like the lunch room attention it brings them, and so this year, once again, I promise not to disappoint!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage


In honor of St. Patrick's Day this week, I thought I would serve the family corned beef and cabbage.  When I told this to my dad over the phone, he asked, "Who in your family likes corned beef and cabbage?"  I thought for a moment.  Nobody, really (except me, that is).  But then I realized something - this is the whole point in making it!  I mean, if I just assume that my kids won't like something because they are, well - kids, then I'm really not giving them the opportunity to like it.  What kind of mother would I be then?  If my kids aren't born vegetable eaters, than I feel it is my duty to develop them into vegetable eaters, through trial and error, and repetition.


So here is my version of corned beef and cabbage.  It's adapted for a slow cooker because A) I love my shiny stainless steel slow cooker and B) I don't own a dutch oven. (Hint Hint - Birthday Idea Anyone?)

Start by heating the corned beef and the liquid in a pan.  I did this to speed the cooking process.  If you start in the morning instead of at noon, like I did, you can skip this part.


Add the thyme and bay leaves whole so they are easy to fish out.  Put the garlic cloves through a garlic press right into the cooking liquid.


Don't forget my secret weapon - apple juice!  In our house it looks like this.


While the meat is cooking, prepare your vegetables.


While they are still slightly undercooked, fish the vegetables out and spread them on a roasting pan.  
Drizzle with olive oil and kosher salt.  Roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

After six hours on high, remove the corned beef.  Let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
Slice thinly against the grain and serve.


What the little critics had to say:

Samuel:  The vegetables tasted good because they were cooked with the meat.
Anna:  The cabbage was a little burnt, but I would give it 3 stars and I was treated with great service with a sweet and cute dog licking my foot half the time.
Arielle:  Overall, it was 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.  Surprisingly, I loved the cabbage.  I love how the salt gave it so much flavor.  Cooked carrots are my favorite.  I loved the sauce on the meat.  (Editor's note:  She really talks like this!)
Ella:  Mashed potato with salt - 2 stars.  Meat - 1 star.  Bun - 19 stars.  Cupcake - 90 stars.  Jello - 1000 stars.  (Editor's Note:  Only Ella found a single serving Jello in the fridge.)

Fortunately, I would call this experiment a success, since we will be eating the leftovers on Thursday!

Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage

Ingredients:
4-5 pounds corned beef
5 garlic cloves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
12 ounces Guinness stout
2 cups beef broth
6 ounces apple juice (my secret weapon)
3 cups water
1 large vidalia onion, cut into wedges
1 pound whole carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
6-7 medium red potatoes, scurbbed
1 medium head green cabbage, cut into quarters, core removed

Directions:
Rinse the corned beef and put it into a large pan.  Add liquid to the pan and bring to a boil.  The purpose of this is to speed up the cooking process.  If you have more time, just pour everything into the slow cooker.  Add the whole sprigs of thyme and the whole bay leaves.  Put the garlic through a garlic press and add to the liquid.

Set the total cooking time to 6 hours on high.

After 2-3 hours on high, add the potatoes, carrots and onion.  At the 5 hour mark, remove the vegetables and place them in a roasting pan.  Add the cabbage to the slow cooker.  After 30 minutes, remove the cabbage and place it on the roasting pan with the other vegetables.  Drizzle with olive oil and salt.  Roast all the vegetables together at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove the corned beef and let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes.  Slice the meat thinly against the grain at an angle.  Remove the vegetables from the oven and serve them with the meat.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Candied-Hazelnut Cupcakes {MSC}


I must admit that long before this month's cupcake was selected, I had gazed at it longingly in the book.  I mean, look at those candied hazelnut toppers.  What show stoppers!  Could I actually create something as beautiful as the photo?  

I divided this month's project into three parts:  The cupcake, the frosting and the topper.  Each part had merit on its own.  

THE CUPCAKE:  Almond-Hazelnut Cupcake


The cupcake began with toasting almonds and hazelnuts.  To be honest, I'm not a big fan of nuts in baked goods.  I think it's a texture thing.  Kind of like celery in jello.


These, however, were finely ground.  Of course, I've never owned a food processor and my blender made it's way into the trash a couple weeks ago.  I knew my patience was not up to finely ground chopping.   Fortunately, I had my handy dandy parmesan cheese grater.  It made a good plan B.


Like last month's chocolate chip cupcakes, this one only used the egg whites.


Once again, my furry friend feasted on a four egg-yolk omelet.  
Did I mention that I'm his favorite?


The folded in egg whites made the batter light and fluffy.


Aren't they beautiful?
You can find the recipe here!

THE FROSTING:  Dark Chocolate Frosting


So I guess I forgot to take a single photo of the icing process.  I've made this icing a few times now, and I think I've tweaked it to perfection:  Less butter, more sugar.

Here's my revised version.  (I don't think Martha will mind!)

Simple Girl's Dark Chocolate Frosting

6 Tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
6 Tablespoons boiling water
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners' sugar
Pinch of salt
1 pound semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Combine the cocoa and the boiling water, stirring until the cocoa has dissolved.  With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt until pale and fluffy.  Add melted chocolate.  Beat until combined.

In my opinion, the additional sugar did not compromise the essence of the dark chocolate, and with the reduced butter, the frosting was still light and glossy!

THE TOPPERS:  Candied Hazelnuts


Finally, no candy thermometer required! (Although I really need to get one!)
Just boil the sugar and water until amber.


The instructions called for an ice-water bath.  
This just didn't work for me.  It cooled too quickly leaving a crystallized rock.


As I reheated the caramel, I thought of Leo DiCaprio clinging to the large ice chunks that were floating around the sinking Titanic, hoping that this project wouldn't be an equal disaster.  I really wanted those pretty spikes!


Here's the skewered hazelnuts.  


And here they are dipped, dripping off the side of my kitchen counter.
Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?


Except this, maybe!


OK, just a few more pictures...







THE CRITICS:

The Husband:  Cupcakes, So-So
The Son:  Frosting is Heavenly
Me:  A nice combination and a beautiful display

Thanks to Jeannette at The Whimsical Cupcake for this month's selection!  To visit our other bakers, click here