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.

Authentic French Onion Soup

4 Oct

John and Jeff came over for dinner last October right before we went to a Haunted Ski Mountain/Chairlift. We were both making certain parts of the dinner. I think I made my burgers for dinner and Country Apple Gallette for dessert and John and Jeff brought over the most amazing French Onion Soup I’ve ever had in my life. I dont even LIKE French Onion Soup and I couldnt get enough of this soup.

Ingredients

Sautee onions

He sent me the recipe – it was a Julia Child recipe. It looked so easy and I knew it tasted so amazing. I couldnt wait to make it. I made it for a family get-together. And then made it for one of my Girls Nights. I was going to have to substitute vegetable broth instead of beef broth because my one girlfriends is a vegetarian. But it would have been allright. I ended up not having to because she couldnt make it.

Flour and onion mixture

Let it simmer

It looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s really easy and goes together quickly. If you have a large food processor, you can easily slice the onions in a few minutes. That cuts down  a LOT on the time.

Crisping the bread

Bread in soup before the cheesebake finish

Getting ready for cheesybake!

Here it is at Work Girls Night Dinner

Authentic French Onion Soup (Courtesy of Julia Child)

Ingredients:

  • 5 -6 cups yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 to 2 lbs)
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 6 cups beef stock (preferably homemade)
  • 1 cup wine (dry red or white)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sage
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 ounces swiss cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 raw yellow onion
  • 2 -3 tablespoons cognac
  • 8 slices French bread (about 1 inch thick)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, for drizzling

Directions:

Place heavy bottom stock pot or dutch over over medium-low heat.

Add 1 Tbs cooking oil, 2Tbs butter to pot.

Add sliced onions and stir until they are evenly coated with the oil.

Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until they are very tender and translucent.

To brown or caramelize the onions turn heat under pot to medium or medium high heat.

Add 1/2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt and continue to cook uncovered, stirring frequently until the onions have browned and reduced significantly.

Once caramelized, reduce heat to medium-low and add 3 Tbs flour to the onions.

Brown the flour for about 2-3 minutes trying not to scorch it. (If the flour does not form a thick paste, you can add a bit more butter here).

Stir in about 1 cup of warm stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up all of the cooked-on bits.

Add the rest of the stock, wine, sage, and bay leaf to the soup.

Simmer for 30 minutes.

To make the “croutes” (toasted bread), heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Drizzle each side of the bread slices with a bit of olive oil and place on baking sheet.

Cook the croutes for 15 minutes in oven on each side (30 minutes total).

Check the soup for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.

Remove the bay leaf (if you can find it).

Transfer to a casserole dish or individual oven-safe dishes or crocks

At this point you can add the 2-3 Tbs cognac and grate the 1/2 raw onion into the soup.

Add a few ounces of the swiss cheese directly into the soup and stir.

Place the toasted bread in a single layer on top of the soup.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese in a thick layer on top of the bread making sure to cover the edges of the toast to prevent burning.

Drizzle with a little oil or melted butter.

Place in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Then turn on broiler and brown cheese well.

Perfect Iced Coffee

2 Oct

I am ADDICTED to iced coffee. And I am mostly addicted to Dunkin Donuts coffee…hot OR iced. Most mornings in the summer, you will find me with a large iced coffee cup from D&D glued to my hand until about 10am.

This is my favorite coffee….La Colombe. It’s a treat for me whenever I’m in Philly!

I realized that I didnt want to pay for iced coffee every single morning, but needed to know it would come out delicious if I did it myself. I tried making coffee the night before and putting it in the fridge – blech. I looked into cold brewing iced coffee. I knew THAT would be the ticket!

Coffee grounds with 2 gallon pitchers…..Ready to get started

Cold brewing leaves you with a smooth, acid-free coffee base that serves as a refreshing cold drink. It wont taste bitter.

Ready to strain the coffee over cheesecloth layers into the pitcher

This definitely takes a little bit of work ahead of time, but it leaves you with a gallon of iced coffee to pull from in the fridge for up to a month!

View from the top of the pitcher!

It is messy work separating the coffee liquid from the grains, but it’s well worth it for tasty iced coffee! Having a funnel is the BEST tool to use here…..just line the funnel and pour on through!

Pouring strained coffee back into the jug for decent storage in the fridge!

I re-used old water jugs that I get from the store – they were the perfect thing to store the coffee in the fridge.  Dont pay any attention to how much is LEFT….I should have taken the picture when I first made it.

Here is how I like to take my iced (or hot) coffee – just with cream. At home I use fat-free cream.

Ahhhhhhhhhh nothing like homemade perfect iced coffee!! I am so happy I did a little bit of research and tried this way……

Perfect Iced Coffee

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon water (I buy a gallon of drinking water)
  • 1 lb bag of your favorite rich coffee (course ground if ya can get it)
  • Coffee filters or several layers of cheesecloth
  • a large bowl (or just 2 pitchers)
  • pitcher (big enough to hold a gallon)
  • Funnel is very helpful if you have it

Pour coffee into the large pitcher or  arge bowl and cover with 4 quarts (1 gallon) filtered water.  Stir so that all the grounds are submerged, cover, and let sit for 8-12 hours.

Strain over cheesecloth or paper towels into a pitcher, cover and put it into the fridge.  This will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.  Everytime you want fresh iced coffee, just pour and fix it as you like!

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