Cleaning & Cocktails

 

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I know! I know! I have been M.I.A and what happened to my 35 week challenge you ask… life!  Life happened and there was nothing I could do about it but accept that I had, once again, challenged myself to an unattainable level.  I will say, however, with the exception of a couple of weeks, I have been baking up a storm.  The major challenge has been to transfer my pictures to the desktop and edit them and then proceed to write up a reader worty blog post.  I assure you, I will get those delicious, Pinterest board delicacies on my post but for now I will leave you with a quick recap of my latest endeavor.

After begrudgingly attending a friends Norwex party, I found myself walking back to my car with a baggy of freebies in my hand, an order receipt in my pocket, and contemplation in my mind as I had purchased products and volunteered to host a party.  The clever consultant, Jennifer, both lured me with her excellent presentation and played to my hosting obsession.  Fast Forward to a few days after  my friend’s party and I  not only had a theme for my party but an catchy title as thought up by Jennifer The Consultant (Thanks Jen…I didn’t even ask her if I could call her that)….”Cleaning & Cocktails”.  Oh be still my hosting heart.

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Unfortunately in the middle of planning, I had a life situation happen that distracted me and took me out of town away from my children for the first time.  I actually ended up returning only four days from hosting day.  So you know what that meant, last minute shopping and running behind.

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On the day of the party, I was really limited in my time.  I was fortunate enough to have baked my cupcakes two days in advance and tossed them in the freezer (I can never thank the baker who posted this tip in a thread).  Anyway, I will tell you one thing that has come out of all of this baking and cooking, I am getting pretty fast.  I think I am ready for one of those speed baking cooking shows.  In the morning, with my kids running circles around me, I was able to prepare a mint chocolate mousse (post to follow….at some point), mint flavored whipped cream (homemade), tart crust and shrimp bruschetta topping.

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Since I had little decorating time, I chose to buy four gold balloons and instead of wrapping the gift boxes containing the most amazing coconut cupcakes I have ever tasted (oh yes I am boasting about something I made and you will be as well should you try it out) with gold ribbon I had purchased, I used the gold marker with which I decorated the mirror in the drink bar area to write a simple “Thank you!” and it looked pretty cute.

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I was so behind, I was plating up dishes when guests arrived so the pictures are few and poorer quality than my usual and I even put Jennifer The Consultant to work on prepping the caramelized onion tartlets.  She did an amazing job by the way!

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In the end, the turn out was enough to make me smile and the food had everyone including myself eye rolling.  You know what I mean…when the only response you can muster when savoring every bite of a delicious piece of food is just a slow roll of the eye.

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Top all of that off with yummy wine and Moscow mules and I was a happy girl.  I had almost forgotten someone was selling something in the middle of all of this.

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A special thank you to all my guests and a special special thank you for your purchases.  I made it to some freebies!  Who could ask for anything more!!!

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35 Weeks of “Pinteresting” Baking: Week 2 – Brown Butter Cake with Vanilla Bean Icing and Salted Caramel

The first thing I have to confess is that, due to my relentless cold, I am behind in posting, but I assure you I am baking in real time.  This cake was made this past Sunday.  I was, once again, able to find inspiration for my baking and this time it was my mother in-law’s birthday.  And what would be more appropriate for a birthday than a cake.  Aside from the gorgeous image of the cake, the words “brown butter” will get me every time.  OMG, I just wiped drool from my mouth.  Brown butter is the process of taking butter to an unimaginable level.  Imagine butter, now image having butter in heaven and you will get a glimpse of what it is to have browned butter.  If you think I am being dramatic, try it.  It attacks all of the major senses involved in eating.  The smell is mind numbing.  It is a cross between roasted nuts and caramel, a smoked caramel if you will.  I also, happen to love the look as well.  It is just a beautiful caramel color and it taste so rich.  As you can see, I can write a post on just browned butter alone, but I digress.  Aside from the naming of this delectable dessert, the beautifully crisp image that I chose to “pin” on my “wall” is what grabbed me initially.  I loved the smooth, seamless frosting underneath the glossy caramel drizzle with tiny little vanilla bean speckles can be seen on the sides of this adorable cylindrical masterpiece. The image below is from the original recipe and the one I chose to “pin”.

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The first task at hand was to get the right sized cake pans.  Since I am the absolute worst at visioning size of an object based on a documented measurements, I was shocked when I went to the store and found the four 6″ cake pans.  They were so tiny.  Anyway, I can now I can make cute little cakes so it was all worth it.

If I am being honest, though this was only Week 2, it was already a bit of a flop.  I started off looking good, I promise.

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As you can see, I masterfully browned the butter (I like to leave in the crust if it will not impact the look) as I have made several recipes with browned butter at this point and I even mentally created an updated version of one of my favorite cookies which I plan to make at the end of the month.  Don’t worry even though it is not part of the 35 week baking, I will still post.  After that, things slowly started to go south, from the forgetting to put in the eggs until after the dry ingredients had been mixed in to the, well, you’ll see later.

Despite the major fails, I do have some tips for this one.

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  1.  I am a master at preparing a cake pan.  Though I grew up making boxed cakes with my mom (which is funny because we never ate processed food for meals), I learned how to properly and thoroughly grease a cake pan as if I was making something from scratch.
    • Put shortening on a paper towel and grease the pan ensuring that you cover every inch including the creases
    • Then take a little bit of flour and dump it in the center
    • Work the flour around the cake pan like you are trying to keep a marble from falling off the edge of a tray (I hope that makes sense)
    • Finally rotate the pan like a wheel so that you get the walls of the pan and tap it to remove any excess flour (maybe I will do a video some day).

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Here is the picture of the finished cake out of the pan (above).  Mic drop.

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  1.  I do know if you are making a layered cake, you level off the top with a knife.  The cake should probably be really cooled at this point so you don’t knock off the edges of the cake like I did.  You are also supposed to  do something similar on the sides, but clearly I went too far.IMG_7845IMG_7846
  2. I saw this online and it worked like a charm.  For the filling layer, use a pastry bag and any circular tip to dispense and then lightly spread it with a flat spatula (any smoothing tool).  That made this step a snap.IMG_7875
  3. Do not, I mean do not substitute vanilla extract for vanilla bean but you can substitute it with vanilla bean paste which is also also quite pricey, but the unlike  billion dollars for the actual bean, it’s a much easier pill to swallow.  The little bean speckles add to the visual charm of the dessert and I believe it is more concentrated as well.  I don’t know, it just has a different flavor that is worth trying.  My husband found this one at Harris Teeter for $10.  But he heard that Trader Joe’s has the same one during the holidays for $4 so be on the lookout for a crazy lady collecting every single tube in November.

Now that is all the tips I am giving because I botched the other tips and ended up mutilating the cake.  Yes, a cake was hurt while filming this process.  But none was wasted!  The kids, my hubby and I gobbled up every little crumb that did not make it to the finale.

There were also a couple of steps I skipped as I was in a rush to get the cake to the birthday girl.  When you initially frost a cake, it is called the “crumb layer”.  Apparently this is a thin layer of frosting that is applied to the cake in order to “catch” the crumbs that magically appear.  This recipe went a step further and had you chill the cake after the crumb layer for 30 minutes.  I think this would have really locked in those crumbs.  This is where I almost lost the cake, again likely due to it not being cooled enough.  I actually started breaking off cake.  After a while I just pretended like I was working on dry wall and the frosting was my caulk.  I actually saved it…well at this step.

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Once I added the frosting, it started going south and it took forever just to get this look.  My final thoughts after making this cake are, one, I absolutely do not like butter frosting.  I said butter, not butter cream which has cream cheese in it.  I need more time and practice for making cakes as they are so much work.  I also dare anyone to ever ask me to make a cake because I will karate chop them.  It is so much work and you would have to charge a lot to make it worth it.

It was pretty good, but the most important part is the birthday girl loved it!

 

Here is the image on my Pinterest wall.

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See, just like the original.  I bet you can’t tell which one is mine.

Christmas Exploded In My House and It’s Not As Expensive As You Think

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At this point the Christmas decorations are pretty much done and unless I manage to create some magical wormhole where I am able to freeze time and just sit and create some additional holiday designs to add to my house, I am very unlikely to add anything else.  But that’s o.k. because I walk through my house every day like a kid in an FAO Schwartz inspired candy store (does that exist?).  It is so well deserved because this was a year in the making.  Oh yes, I had to wait a whole year to finally get my Christmas explosion.

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Christmas 2015 I moped through my rusty box of decorations that had been purchased through the years at the dollar store or some scrap bin and I didn’t spend a dime.  O.k. well maybe a dime.  I was uninspired and unenthused, but it was all for good reason.  I knew as soon as the holiday was over and those 60%+ off signs went up at my favorite go to stores (Michael’s, Target), I would knock over grannies to get what I want.  And that is exactly what I did.  No, I didn’t really knock over grannies but I huddled over my cart like a little old lady as I sped through aisles of decor from Christmas past.  I mean I was buying things I never thought I could because there was no way in hell I was spending some of those crazy prices on ornaments or garland, but at 70% off it was more my budget.

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Let me just tell you, this is no sprint.  You have to be willing to go back for a week or more as they drop the prices each week.  I got things for as low as 80% off.  I was even able to purchase decor from Kirkland’s.  I am telling you, it was so worth it to wait.  I mean my house looks like I am one of those, no offense, crazy people that spend a fortune on Christmas decor and I spent only slightly more or the same as if I went shopping in the bargain bin at a discount store.

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As you can see my Rustic mind is still going strong.  I wanted to stick with that style so I have a lot of green and burlap.  And do not forget about the chalkboard.  I think I ended up getting those mini trees for $1 each from Target once they went down to $1.  Oh yeah, I recall now.  I took every single tree on the shelf and was walking away and a woman freaked out (she was like actually fussing) because she must have seen them before I got there.  I totally hid and ran off with my steal.  It was hilarious.

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So, if you want your home to look like Santa’s workshop but don’t have a basket ball wives’ budget just hold strong, stick with your minimalist Christmas decor this year and attack those shelves after the holiday and in one year, with patience, you will have the holiday home of your dreams.

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I am so proud of this tree.  It is pretty full for my standards and the ornaments were cheap pricing but not cheap quality.

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An Old Fashioned Treat Gets a homemade maker-over

In an attempt to have one last get together for my son and his kindergarten mates before they transition to 1st grade.  I wanted to just do a little something with no bells and whistles.  No days and days of little sleep trying to execute some insane design my meddling brain created.  Just playing with water in the backyard or whatever they find around the house, pizza that will be delivered and homemade ice cream sandwiches.

I tried sooooooooo hard to be simple, but I mean, there had to be multiple flavors of ice cream and there HAD to be different cookie options so that there can be different sandwich combinations and how could they possible know what to pick without a menu and what kind of menu would it be if it wasn’t a chalkboard menu and how would they know it was a menu if I didn’t give it a title.  That is pretty much how my brain works and why things constantly spiral out of control.  Oh well, what’s done is done.  I kept it as simple as I am capable of keeping it and the kids had a blast.

Oh don’t worry, I will not conclude this post without talking about the treats that inspired this whole thing.

I am quite particular with the quality of food that my little monsters consume (until I am exhausted and you hear “Welcome to McDonald’s, may I take your order”) so if I allow ice cream in the house, it is only with a label that says cream, sugar, and maybe 2 or 3 more ingredients that I am able to pronounce and don’t recognize from a reagent label at work.  Harris Teeter was having a buy 2 get 3 free on Turkey Hill (don’t ask me, it’s a brand they carry here in NC) so I thought, this is totally a sign that ice cream sandwiches are the way to go.  Next was deciding on which cookies, but before I even went there I had a matter of business to resolve.  My cookies have not been performing as well as I would like so I Googled and found some awesome tips that had my cookies looking and feeling like something from a professional bakery (taste has never been an issue).  Here are the tips:

  1.  All ingredients must be at room temperature (I have shared that one before)
  2. Beat butter and sugar for 3 – 5 minutes.  This is for real.  It gets that air inside so you have nice plump, fluffy cookies.
  3. Rotate you pans midway through cooking (change racks as applicable but also a 180°)
  4. Parchment paper!  – This is the best and most important tip I have ever used.  It made clean up a sinch.  Helped the cookies have a gorgeous color on the bottom, but also helped speed up my process as you are able to set cookies up on the parchment paper while one/two batches are in the oven!

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The cookies turned out the best I ever made.  I chose my go to chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies although no one chose that one, sugar cookies, and brown butter cinnamon with white chocolate chip.  You can see the combinations on the menu.

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The menu was such a fun touch, the kids were so excited and perplexed trying to decide which to choose.  One of the moms who stayed took orders and it was really like an Ice Cream Shoppe (what the h is a shoppe?).  I am pretty sure I enjoyed it the most as I, for a brief moment, got to experience having my own bakery without leaving my own home and the kids got a nice end to their summer break which I hope goes in their history books.

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My Something-Is-Better-Than-Nothing Christmas Decoration

Of course I had some inclination to decorate this Christmas.  I mean, who doesn’t love the sparkly lights or shiny ornaments dangling from a deliciously fresh smelling pine tree.  But this year, it was going to be a little different since we are just in a transitional locale and more specifically we plan to, once again, be homeowners just before the most exciting holiday of the year (Thanksgiving is a close second).  So the thought of going all out on Christmas decor seemed pointless.  To throw an even bigger wrench in my already premeditated attempt to do half a@s Christmas decorations, I got sick two days before Thanksgiving.  I chose to ignore my aching body or the hacking cough every two seconds and still cooked, shopped, and traveled so by the time Thanksgiving was over and my son kept begging to decorate, the something-is-better-than-nothing Christmas decorations were born.  I grabbed the most visible boxes that contained holiday decorations and literally started throwing things in random places.  I mean, come on, I can be a perfectionist, but you have to draw the line some where (I am still coughing a week later).

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The one thing I am proud of is our “Christmas Tree”.  I knew we just didn’t have time to pick up a tree and it just seemed like too much work knowing we will be working on our new home (cross your fingers) during the holiday so I recalled the post on Apartment Therapy about alternative Christmas trees and remembered some were drawn on a wall so I thought why not.  This was probably one of the best Christmas ideas since I have had children.


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I drew the tree and then let my four year old trace it with chalk.  It served as Christmas decorating with mommy and a writing skill builder.  He did so well!  We even put ornaments on it.

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When all was done and I was looking around our apartment, all I could say was “something is better than nothing”.

No Babysitter, No Problem: Keeping Date Night Alive

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There was a time, long ago….o.k. only four years, but it seems like an eternity when you are a parent.  Anyway, there was a time when my boyfriend (now my husband) or I would say hey let’s go out and the only consideration was where to go.  Fast forward to the present and those people are but a mere fantasy.  Now it is, who will watch the kids?  Are the kids sick?  What time will they go to sleep so we can make a break for it?  Or, ugh, I am too tired to get all dressed up and battle the crowds.  We have recently added another wrench in our dating plans by relocating to an area where we have do not have a single family member.  We no longer have to ask the question who will watch the kids, because we already know the answer is “no one”.  Yet instead of being defeated, because I will say it is so important for parents to get a moment where you feel like adults again and more importantly where you get a chance to be reminded of why you married the person, we decided to have date night at home.

For my husband and I, being able to enjoy a glass or two (or three?) and turn on a movie after the kids go to sleep is priceless and aside from the wine and movie, is near free.  We often like to spice it up with margaritas with some chips and salsa to remind us of our happy hour days at El Toritos. I recognize to the lucky few that can afford to get the best help or have live-in parents or just a trustworthy person at the tip of your fingers (literally since you have to use your fingers to call them) this may seem like a yawn fest or something you do when you become a retiree, but I will tell you it makes you feel like a twentysomething again.  The best part is you can be in something extremely comfortable and your kids are right there across the hall, upstairs, downstairs.  Anything you and your battlefield partner (aka child rearing partner) can think of, you can do at home for date night.  It has often surpassed the option of going out some days.  So for those of you stuck without a baby sitter, there is still hope.

Brunch To Go

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If you haven’t guessed it by now, I am a foodie.  I know that eating is supposed to just be for sustenance, but come on, it is just too good to eat only for one’s survival.  We eat it to celebrate, to compensate, and to appreciate.  I am aware it can be a bad habit, but this time I say oh well. Oh and I also use it as a gift.  I believe it is one of the cheapest ways to make someone really feel  special and excited so when I was digging around in my brain trying to figure out something nice to do for my pregnant cousin (with her second), it should come as no surprise that I thought of food.  This time I chose breakfast, but days before her breakfast gift, she notified me that she would be going in to work for a bit that morning.  Instead of cancelling completely, I decided to make her brunch, but to go.

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Baking sweets is probably my favorite form of cooking so of course, I started with this coffee cake recipe I had on my pinterest.  I was trying to be as cost effective as possible with this brunch idea so I swapped out the requested Amaretto, which I did not have in stock, with rum.  It still came out great, but the rum flavor was very strong despite needing to cook the cake for over an hour to compensate for a faulty oven.

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I first cut the cake in half so one half could stay at home with us to enjoy.  Then I cut slices of the remaining half and wrapped them up to go.

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Next up is the cherry tomato feta cheese quiche.  I don’t have a recipe listed because my exhaustion led me to freestyle the recipe.  I prepared a crust from scratch and blind baked it for 20 minutes.  The filling is egg, heavy cream, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil.  You just mix it together in a bowl and pour into the crust.  Note from the picture the overflow of egg mix, this is what happens when you don’t use your pie weights.

IMG_8316-001It still came out delicious and was actually easy to remove from these tarlet springform pans.

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Next up was a delicious parfait.  I added each layer carefully and one at a time so that it can have that nice layered look.  I enlisted the help of my son since I stole  his granola cereal (it is just plain granola so no fancy cherry granola as the recipe lists) for the treat.

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  It was easy and looked so delicious when I was finished, I somehow had the strength to not devour the four that I made and give one to my son who, honestly, deserved it and my mother-in law.  The final two went into the basket.  In order to save time and money, I opted out of finding a clear plastic cup with a lid and just tightly covered the cups in plastic wrap and tied a plastic spoon to the front.

The final touch was to present it in a ready to travel picnic basket and add some fruit.  I have to say, I wanted this one for myself, but it was really nice to see my pregnant cousin opening that basket  with the biggest grin on her face.

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