Archive | October, 2012

Pumpkin Carving Contest at Work

31 Oct

This is my second Halloween at my company and the 2nd time I’ve participated in the Pumpkin Carving Contest. Here was my winning pumpkin from 2011 – a cheeseburger:

So I wanted to stay within the same creative idea…but I wasnt sure what to do. My friend, Kelly, gave me the idea for the Apple. She showed me a pic, I printed it out, and it became my guide, even though I didnt get as intricate as it depicted.

Here it is – the final APPLE Pumpkin in place…..ready to be judged:

I won second place!!!!! Yaaaaay! Another year of successful competitive pumpkin carving in the books! Now to think about next year……send me any good ideas!

Mel’s Annual Halloween Party

30 Oct

My dear friend, Mel, and her husband, Matt, have been having their annual Halloween Party for 5 years now. Mel and Matt really go ALL OUT for their party. There are so many decorations and candles….the mood is definitely set perfectly. And the FOOD!!! Mel has so much food and it’s arranged so craftily and artistically. In fact, she is so good at setting up parties and arranging decorations and everything just-so, she has her own business – check it out:  https://www.facebook.com/#!/memorieswithmelanie  (contact her at: memorieswithmelanie@yahoo.com).

Look at the attention to detail

Cute centerpiece for table

This year I brought some food to help Mel out since she was making so much. Mel did all the sweets – caramel covered apple slices, chocolate covered marshmellows, chocolate drizzled cookie bites, chocolate covered pretzels, and Cake pops which were TO DIE FOR. Mel also got Corropalese Tomato Pie (BEST tomato pie in the entire WORLD – no argument). And she made Mac-n-Cheese bites that were awesome. Christine’s boyfriend brought homemade guacamole, I brought homemade salsa and chips. I also made Southwest Egg Rolls, BLT Bites (Mel’s idea), and Pizza Bites. It was a LOT of food – but look how awesome it all looks!

Here is the table setup with some mood lighting

Here it is in the light

Here is the sweet section – check out the cake pops standing up in the middle (YUM)

Healthy Southwest Egg Rolls

BLT Bites and Pizza Bites

Each year we look forward to this party- even though I dont like getting dressed up. And getting dressed up for Mel’s party is a mandate. Thinking up a costume is always hard.

Usually John comes with me so we think of a joint costume. Here are our costumes from 2009 and 2010 (2011 was snowed out):

2009 – mr and mrs spongebob

2010 – we were the Black Eyed Peas (get it?)

2010 – John’s boyfriend, Jeff, as an abortion doctor

This year, John couldnt come so it was just me in a solo costume. I decided to be NJ Tan Mom 🙂 My friend, Monica, suggested it when I was complaining about coming up with a costume on facebook. Thank you, Monica!!!

Here are some of the other party guests from last night as well!

Me, Mel, and Kendra

Me and Mel

Whoopie Cushion cracked me up!

Kendra and her sister, Christine – Tacky Tourist – out at the bonfire

And we were all thrilled to see Steph, who has a newborn and doesnt get out as much…..

Supper Club – Mexican

28 Oct

We all LOVE mexican food. I mean, who doesnt!??!?! So I was the lucky one to draw “mexican” from the theme bowl in supper club. The only problem? There are soooooooooooooooo many different possibilities for mexican food – tacos, burritos, tamales, flautas, traditional dinner, etc etc. I used Rick Bayless’s cookbook and a special edition of Cooks Illustrated magazine that focused solely on mexican dishes.

We had our first guest for Supper Club – our friend Beth was in from Cali for the weekend for some Supper Club and Haunted Mountain action. So this added to the excitement and deliciousness.

I decided to go very simple for appetizers, since my research revealed that mexicans dont really do “appetizers”. I think Americans have glorified what we think their apps could be……but they arent. I made a “medium” and a “spicy” Rustic Roasted Salsa from Rick Bayless. I also paired a simple, but tasty, salsa with a fresh guacamole.

After everyone had enough chips and salsa/guac, we decided to sit down for dinner……

I decided to go big and make Chicken Mole. For years I’ve only heard about how HARD mole is to make and how much time it takes. So I was nervous about it……I have to tell you that it was super super easy. I kept saying “I cant believe how easy this is” as I made it. It was so delicious, too. I dont think I’ve ever had a better mole in my life.

I decided to make something typically “american-mexican” and went with Beef Enchiladas! The beef mixture was simple and awesome and simmered for almost 2 hours so it was tender. And I even made my own flour tortillas to wrap them in. I bought store-bought tortillas in case mine didnt turn out, but they were easy to make and came together quickly. I think they also made a huge difference in the texture of the whole dish. I will always make my own flour tortillas in the future.

I also had a fresh salad with lime-cilantro vinaigrette. Here’s a shot of the dinner table as a whole.

And then came dessert…..I knew I wanted to make a Flan because that is very traditional. But I was nervous about flan because I’ve never made anything like it before. However, it turned out amazing. I had to make an emergency call to my mom (the master chef) to get advice on making the caramel top after the 3rd attempt, but other than that, it came out perfect!

Pulling the pan from the flan….perfection!

Just to play it safe since I was worried about the flan, I also made Mexican Wedding Cookies as a backup. They were flaky and melted in our mouths.

After dinner, we continued to celebrate Beth being able to join our group for the weekend, and then we took a trip down the road to Spring Mountain’s Haunted Mountain for a night of screams and frights 🙂

Our mexican feast kicked butt…..cant wait til next month at John’s for Francais!

Zucchini Bread

14 Oct

It’s that time of year when the zucchini is plentiful and it’s being sold DIRT CHEAP. I love to buy a bunch of odd-shaped zucchini from the farmers market and turn it into zucchini bread!

This is my mom’s recipe. It’s really the only zucchini bread I’ve ever known. And I am boldly saying that it is the ONLY recipe you will ever need for this bread.

Hand grating….the old fashioned way

Start off with freshly grated zucchini. You can either run it through the food processor grating-blade if you are doing a couple batches – fast and easy. Or if you are just whipping up 1-2 batches, you can grate your zucchini on a hand-grater (see above).

The ingredients really come together quite easy.

If you are a nut person, DEFINITELY add the walnuts. I am not really a nut person, but I know that the walnuts take this zucchini bread from great to amazing!! You can also add raisins if you like, but I never do.

I tend to go nuts and make a TON of the little mini-loaves and bring them to work, give them to friends/family, and also keep some in the freezer to pull out on a random night.

You can see the zucchini, but it just tastes like heaven

Cant you get a whiff of the cinnamon??? My house smelled like sugar and cinnamon for a day after I made the latest batch…..yum!

Joan’s Zucchini Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2.5 cups of sugar
  • 2+ cups grated raw zucchini
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease and flour your pans. This recipe makes either 6 little loaf pans, 1 9×5 loaf pan, 2 large loaf pans, or 1 3-quart bundt pan.

Beat the eggs until foamy. Gradually beat in oil and sugar.

Add cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and baking powder – mix well. Then add grated zucchini.

Gradually blend in flour. Then fold in chopped nuts.

Bake for 1 hour. This bread freezes really well.

Tomatoes Provencale

8 Oct

It was the end of the summer and I wanted to bring a side dish to my parents house for dinner. I had a TON of tomatoes and wanted to showcase them. Why not find out what Julia Child would do?

I referred to Julia Child’s Tomatoes Provencale recipe. It was simple, delicious, and could be made the night ahead.

It is a vegetable AND a starch! And the best part is you can adjust to whatever herbs, seasoning, ingredients you like!

This recipe is a true classic. I grew up eating these from time to time and I remembered how good they were when I made them recently.

Your whole house fills with the smell of tomato, garlic, herb, and breadcrumb.

Doesnt this look amazing?

Here was our plate from dinner that night…..trust me – it was all delicious!

Here is the cross-section of the tomato……I stuff the cavity deep to get more breadcrumbs in my tomato.

These tomatoes are completely amazing. So delicious and elegant without even trying. What a great way to enjoy the flavor of your late-season tomatoes!

Tomatoes Provencale

Ingredients

  • 3 large firm ripe tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbs minced shallots
  • 1 tsp dried herbes de Provence (or whatever herbs you like!)
  • 3 Tbs freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 to 3 Tbs chopped parsley
  • 3 to 4 Tbs olive oil

Directions:

Set a rack on the upper-middle level and preheat the oven to 400 F.

Core the tomatoes and cut them in half crosswise. Over a plate or bowl, squeeze each half gently to force out the seeds and juice. With your fingers, clean the cavities of any clinging seeds.

Arrange in the baking dish cut side up. If any halves are wobbly or tilted, trim a bit off the bottom so that they sit flat in the pan. Season with a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Stir together the bread crumbs, shallots, dried herbs, grated cheese, and chopped parsley in a small bowl. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, tossing well to moisten the crumbs evenly.

Spoon the stuffing into the tomato halves, pushing it down into the cavities and mounding on top. Drizzle a scant teaspoon of oil over the top of each half.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the topping has browned and the tomatoes are hot but still keep their shape. Serve hot in the baking dish, or move them carefully to a clean platter.

Notes/Variations
The tomato halves can be stuffed several hours in advance and refrigerated before baking.

You can use store-bought bread crumbs, make your own (which Julie recommends!), or use panko.

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