Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Birthday Dad!

Happy Birthday Dad!
Photo courtesy of Diana's Dessert
Yes, my dad's birthday is on Halloween :-). Interestingly enough though he never really wanted to celebrate and while we all dressed up and went trick or treating, we never had big parties on Halloween. Makes me go hmmmm, now. On another note, I saw this precious pumpkin patch of pumpkin spice cakes over at Diana's Desserts and I thought that they were absolutely adorable so I just had to share them. They are made using mini bundt pans and Diana generously shared her recipe. Super cute huh?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Halloween Survey

Photo courtesy of Will's Blog
I'm always curious about how others celebrate their holidays. Here's a little survey I'm taking for Halloween.So If you have a moment...join in. I'd love to get to know you better.

1.) Are you dressing up for Halloween this year?

I'll be in traditional black and the puppers will be in full Halloween regalia. Michael will be a yellow submarine and Minnie is going to be a lil witch. You can see them here.  It is their first Halloween so it will be interesting to see their reaction to all the little kiddos dressed up.

2.) Store bought Costumes or Handmade?

Oh...I loved making Brandi's costumes when she was little.

3.) Favorite Halloween candy?

Tootsie rolls, or maybe milk duds, no wait, rolos, or laffy taffy or sweetarts. It's just too hard to choose just one.

4.) Tricks or Treats?

Treats...I'm not huge on surprises.

5.) Do you let the kids pick out their treat or do you give it to them?

Handing out huge handfuls is Rick's favorite thing about Halloween. He loves seeing the kids eyes get HUGE when they see how much he doles out. Sometimes he lets them pick their own and when they just pick one he says, Is that all? Take some more." Then they grin and take another. It's cute to watch.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Tricks...or Treats ~ You Decide

So I've been perusing the internet and oogling all the weird, gross foods people seem to love to bring out for Halloween. Things like jellied eyeballs, cookie fingers, bread bones, and brain cakes. I don't know what it is, but the grosser the better it seems. That got me to thinking about the weirdest thing I ever actually ate:

I'll preface this with, I live in Arizona :-) My husband is from New York and had only been out here a few years when his brother visited us. I suggested a favorite Cowboy style restaurant and when you walk in and look at the floor, you assume that it is covered in sawdust. It's not. They are peanut shells. Each table has a little bucket of peanuts in the shell that you eat and throw the shells onto the floor. The guys thought that was the greatest thing since sliced bread...until the menu arrived and they began looking over the appetizers. Fried pickle chips, onion rings, potato skins, RATTLESNAKE! Yes, the boys were stoked! Testosterone flowing!
Photo courtesy of Sniper's Hide
It was a good thing Rick's mom wasn't with us because she would have tipped right over. She's terrified of snakes, and the idea that there could be a kitchen full of them just steps away from where we were sitting would have been enough to send her into cardiac arrest.

These guys being the macho creatures they are had to order it. When the crispy little fried morsels arrived, with a little trepidation, we all tried it....and in unison said "Chicken, it tastes like chicken." :-) Doesn't everything?
Photo courtesy of Hennings Crossing
What kinds of wild and wacky foods have you tried? I'd love to hear about it. I think :-). I don't know whether to apologize for this post cause it's so gross, or not. I mean, it is Halloween. But it's not pretty like some of my other posts. But, it is only once a year. I don't know, what do you think? Too Gross?

By the way, we've decided on a relatively simple (but still fun and fabulous) Halloween menu.

Warm Spinach Artichoke Dip
Cheese Platter
Caesar Salad
Spaghetti (Rick's fav)
Buca Style Meatballs (Giant baseball sized)
Ciabiatta Bread
 Chocolate Chocolate Chip Sweet Potato Cupcakes (Brandi's Recipe)
Ice Cream 
(Cold Stone Style w/Halloween Candy Mix-Ins)
Have a Safe and Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Inspiration ~ It's another busy day!

I am in the midst of a pretty big project, but I am attempting to keep my promise to myself to share something here everyday. We had such a fun Halloween party last year that I wanted to share a few photos of our table.

Photo via Janet Ellis
We start with our fabulous black cauldron that holds our Delicious Witches Brew. It is the old lime sherbet and sprite punch. It's kid friendly and we add dry ice to the cauldron so it bubbles and smokes and spits.

Photo via Janet Ellis
We had fun and spooky adulterated drinks. I think these were actually strawberry daiquiris that we served with dry ice.

Photo via Janet Ellis
Of course no Halloween party would be complete without Magic Potions.  We had fun trying out the different flavors and giving them magic powers. We found these at Target.

Photo via Janet Ellis
My talented daughter, Brandi made these scary marzipan spider and black sparkly spider cupcakes. I admit that I just couldn't bring myself to eat one of those big marzipan spiders. Cute though huh?

Photo via Janet Ellis
You can see her popcorn balls here too. OMG were they ever good. Popcorn balls are one of my Christmas favorites and she did them for Halloween! I felt like that little pig on the commercial Weeeeeee! Weeeeeeeeeee!

I think we're doing a Twilight inspired Halloween Party this year, or maybe it will be traditional. I don't know yet. Yes, I know it's Thursday already, and Halloween is Sunday. But heck, we already have all the stuff :-) worries. Whatever it turns out to be, it will be fun and fabulous! I'd love to hear about your fun plans!

And Kim (A Creative Spirit), if you read this...I am thinking about you dear. Blessings, Janet

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Need I say more?

It's a crazy busy day today with lots going on and since it is also Halloween Week, I wanted to share these cute shots we took of the puppers trying out their Halloween costumes when Brandi was doing her Twilight photo shoot here a few weeks ago.
Michael and Minnie trying out their costumes
Micheal's silly personality matches his Yellow Submarine costume
And yes...our sweet lil witch can be a bit moody sometimes :-)
 This is the first time I've attempted posting a video. Micheal and Minnie Mouse are getting used to their costumes. I think they're doing pretty well :-)

Have a great day! Would love to see how you spend your crazy days too! :-)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Two Bite Tuesday ~ The Right Stuff

I love beautiful things. I love things that coordinate. I love comfortable things. I love it when colors match. It's almost an obsession. Actually, it is an obsession. I figured it out when I took my first statistics class in college. I was terrified of all things related to math and I was so nervous on the first day when I stepped into that classroom. I remember it so clearly though. I was sitting there staring at my textbook and I noticed that the crimson and white textbook was the same crimson red color as my notebook. I felt a strange wave of satisfaction come over me though I was still fidgeting nervously when I dropped my mechanical pencil on the floor. As I leaned over and picked it up, I noticed that it too was the same crimson red color as my textbook AND my notebook. That's when it happened. All of the nervousness I felt seemed to drain from my body and pool up around my feet. (No, I didn't wet my pants :-) But that is the moment I realized I had this strange relationship with color.

First Bite ~ So now you know that when I found these sweet little denim colored candy coated chocolates, I just couldn't say no. They match the denim accent wall in my home office...perfectly! Oh, and that's something else...I have a real thing for all things denim. (I'll leave that for another post though.)

Photo via Janet Ellis
Can you see how they match the wall? I feel calmer already. Originally I purchased the candy machine to dispense puppy treats in my office, but the treats were too big and they got sort of crumbly. You might have seen this post where I re-purposed a silver bowl for their treats. Sweet huh? :-)

Now, I also believe that it takes just so little to live above average. I really enjoy a fun or pretty food presentation, whether it's for a party or even if it's just Rick and I. And, it's just nice to have the right service ware.

Second Bite ~ Cost Plus World Market is one of my favorite places to find fun things for entertaining. I came across these adorable spreaders and I had to have them.

Image courtesy of Cost Plus
I only bought four of them and recently I went back and noticed that they also have the cocktail forks and tasting spoons.

Image courtesy of Cost Plus
Gotta have the whole set, don't you think? Hubby and I use them almost every night to spread butter on our baguettes (Eeww...yep, we eat too much bread).  I used them for this little romantic appetizer for two a few weeks ago.

Photo via Janet Ellis
Here's what they looked like for our New Year's Eve gathering last year.

Photo via Janet Ellis
And here they are again on the 4th of July. I think that they really add a nice touch to the presentation. I love the twisted handles and the spiral tops. Can you tell we really like cheese?
Image via Janet Ellis
The pieces are a little pricey at $2.99 each (compared to other cocktail pieces I've seen) but they really are a nice weight. I just can't decide how many I want to buy. Oh, and I almost forgot, you can actually order them online here, but $9.96 for a set of 4, plus shipping makes them more expensive that way. I do love it when the makings of a fun party come together though.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Little Kisses and Time Travel

You all know that I am compiling some of the family recipes for a Through the Seasons sort of cookbook.  As I was going through old photos that I am hoping to marry with the recipes in the book I came across these adorable shots of Brandi taken when she was 2 years old (Yikes, that's like 26 years ago!) She was a Hershey Kiss for Halloween. Cute huh? (I used the same pattern from her first year pumpkin costume...I like to reuse :- and I appreciate not having to reinvent  the wheel.)
Brandi with cousins Jeff and Justin
You can check out what this creative little kiss is up to 26 years later over at Tweedle Dee Designs. It really is just so amazing to see how raising your children in a creative environment ignites the spark for them.

Our sweet little kiss
Of course, this got me to thinking about Hershey's Kisses and how much they have evolved over the years. First, they were just wrapping them up in different foil colors to celebrate the holidays; red and green for Christmas, pastels for Easter. And now they have got everything from milk and dark to white chocolate filled with cherries, caramel, and my favorite Pumpkin Spice. Jenny Flake over at Picky Palate thought they were pretty good too and came up with a delicious Black Bottom Mini Caramel Pumpkin Cheesecake. Wow! That's a mouth full to say...for a bite sized dessert.

Gotta love Jenny's beautiful photography too! If these look as incredibly scrumptious to you as they do to me, Jenny has generously posted the recipe over on her blog Picky Palate. She uses the mini cheesecake pan and just a few ingredients. My kind of recipe and these will definitely be on our Thanksgiving menu this year!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ya Think? I'm swooning...yes I am

Look at this closet! Just look at it. Isn't it gorgeous, and girly, and o.r.g.a.n.i.z.e.d. ~ I love it!
Photo courtesy of Life in a Venti Cup
I saw it and I just HAD to share it with you. It just looks Happy! I don't know if it's just me, or if every woman has a thing for beautifully designed and organized closets. You can take a look at this post and this one. Now, my closet is organized, clothes are categorized and hung by collar type, sleeve length, and color. It's like a rainbow. Shoes are in hanging organizers. Handbags in a neat row on a shelf, etc. etc. etc. But, it doesn't look like this....Yet :-). I wonder if Rick would mind moving his clothes into the guest room. Probably. :-)
Love shoes on glass shelves
And handbags displayed like art!

I was actually doing some research for work when I came across these photos and I was stopped in my tracks. I had to bookmark the page before I was able to continue on my work journey. There is just something about organized and even minimalist spaces that is just so soothing, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Brisk Morning Walk and Steel Cut Oats

Wow, it's really late now and it was a c.r.a.z.y. day. Tomorrow is a new day though and I am looking forward to a brisk morning walk. It's supposed to rain tonight so I'm thinking I get to dig out one of my favorite sweaters {Squeal, I love that gray sweater}. And I'm looking forward to my first bowl of steel cut oats for the season. Autumn is a toss up with spring for my favorite time of year. Apple cider, pumpkin pie, crackling fires, brisk mornings and mild days...this is why I live here in the Desert Southwest.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Two Bite Tuesday ~ Little Cuties

Resistance was futile when I saw these adorable Vanilla Bean Baby Donuts on Heather's blog Sprinkle Bakes. You may recall that a few weeks ago, I went on a mini cupcake, muffin, pancake making flurry with my babycakes mini cupcake maker. Adorable mini muffin pancakes were a fun and surprising brunch appetizer. So cute, so when I saw these sweet little babies, I was smitten. I was...yes, smitten. And I can't believe I just wrote that out loud. Look at them though, they're irresistible.
Photo courtesy of Sprinkle Bakes
First Bite ~ So here it is, the pan that births these precious little babies. I walked into Sur la table and I felt like I was adopting a newborn. Well, not exactly, but it was fun. The salespeople served me fresh cappuccino from their $2999.00 cappuccino machine and, like new moms with their different babies, we all chatted about our experiences with mini foods. It was surreal. I know that sounds absurd, but that really is what happened :-).

Image via Janet Ellis
Aren't they cute? My second bite was actually inspired by the mini star shaped cherry pies I made for our 4th of July party this summer. I made them using William Sonoma's mini star pie mold and they were a huge hit. They were not only a really adorable addition to our dessert spread, they were really good!

Photo via Janet Ellis
Cute huh? :-) The flaky crust was chock full of cherries and sprinkled with sugar, As you can see, we served it with a tiny scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and a sprinkling of summer's fresh berries. It was such a huge hit that I thought it would be fun to do mini apple pies during the fall.

Second Bite ~ And William Sonoma happens to have an apple shaped mini pie mold as well. I actually purchased this one several weeks ago and am just now getting around to sharing it with you all. I haven't had an occasion to make the little pies yet, and I'm trying to think of how to  garnish them. A la mode is obviously an option, but, hmmmm, what else?
William Sonoma Mini Apple Pie Mold
Maybe I'll surprise everyone and serve it which a wedge of cheddar cheese. Cheese??? you say. Actually it is very good. Brandi's grandmother used to serve it that way and it really is delicious. You can Google apple pie and cheese and see what pops up.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Variations on a Theme ~ Tres Leches Cupcakes

I'm still compiling recipes for the family cookbook and I came across Mom's recipe for her delicious Tres Leches Cake. (I'll post that later) This is one recipe I have never attempted but, of course, I was intrigued with the idea of making a mini version. After scouring the web for recipes and pics, I found a few favorites I'd like to share.

This one come from Gabriela's Kitchen and is served in the traditional style with a marachino cherry on top.I have also seen where the cherry was chopped up into bits and sprinkled over the top to give a bit of cherry flavor to each scrumptious bite. Isn't it adorable? I love tradition!

Photo courtesy of Gabriela's Kitchen
This is a bit of a variation with fresh raspberries instead of the traditional maraschino cherry on top. It really does look just heavenly, don't you think?
Photo courtesy of SophitiMom
This one is a work of art beautifully sprinkled with Cinnamon, drizzled with caramel and graced with a whole cinnamon stick. Almost too pretty to eat.
Photo courtesy of Ingid Cakes
Of course, our line up would not be complete without a Martha Stewart version of this classic Mexican dessert. It's a good thing.
Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart
And then there is my favorite. Two layered and filled with vanilla infused whipped cream and topped with crimson pomegranate seeds against fluffy cloud whipped cream frosting making a striking contrast.
Photo courtesy of Growling Belly (if you can believe that)
Aren't they all just gorgeous though. I can't wait to adapt Mom's recipe to a mini version.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pretty in Pink ~ A Classic for Mom's Birthday

Happy Birthday Mom!
Photo courtesy of My Sweet and Saucy
Today is Mom's birthday and we will be celebrating over at my Aunt Judy's with a savory steak dinner. While I love this beautiful cake created by Melody of My Sweet and Saucy, I will be contributing a variety of gourmet cheeses for the occasion. I watched the video tutorial of this extravagant icing application and had visions of ruffles landing everywhere except on the cake. Not only that, My Uncle Al makes Mom a Carrot Cake for her birthday every year so I'm off dessert duty this time around.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Labor of Love ~ My Mini Garden

I have mixed feelings about trying to plant a winter garden this year. In spite of hundreds of dollars spent on Cesar Milan style training, our two new cocker puppies haven't quite gotten the idea of boundaries just yet, and they love jumping up into the raised vegetable beds. Michael ate ALL of our summer strawberries and was infatuated with the tomato plants all season long. I think Minnie just enjoys using it as a lookout so she can spy any birds that land in the yard. We will be installing some sort of barrier (hopefully aesthetically pleasing) to keep them out. Here's a look at my summer bed.
L Shaped Raised Bed and 4X4 Square Bed ~
This summer we planted 6 tomatoes, some strawberries, lettuce, snow peas, several varieties of squash and cucumbers. Here's a sampling of the first harvest. We gave away a few hundred tomatoes!
Tomatoes, Papaya, Eight Ball, Patty Pan & Zucchini Squash
Today I purchased 3 tomato plants, some red leaf lettuce and romaine lettuce. The broccoli didn't look very good at the garden center so I am looking forward to a drive into Phoenix to my two favorite nurseries early in the week.

Planting a garden in two seasons was on my bucket list for the year so I am excited to have begun the process and I have high hopes for a fruitful harvest. I love the idea of walking out into the backyard and picking the vegetables for dinner. And there's just nothing like a fresh from the garden green salad. I like keeping it small too because it makes it a lot more manageable and in spite of its small size we have enjoyed a harvest that is so abundant we gave away lots of vegetables. Sharing the bounty is a huge part of the fun of it for us.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A mini contradiction ~ Godiva Coffee and Store Bought Pastry

It really just goes to show you that you can spend a little more here...and a little less there and feel completely indulged. That's what I did this morning. I was out of coffee...yes, you read that correctly out. of. coffee. Now, if you knew me really well, you would know that that is never a good thing. Particularly on this morning when I think I've slept only about 4 hours in two days...(just one of those things). So, as soon as it opened (6 am) I ran to our local grocers, grabbed a package of Godiva Breakfast Blend coffee at ten dollars for twelve ounces. (I wanted really good coffee this morning.) I was also feeling like a little sweet so I walked back to the bakery and lo and behold there sat this little package of mini pastries. They had apple and strawberry. I picked the apple. It's fall and I'm so over strawberry right now.

Coffee and Apple Pastry on a Beautiful Autumn Morning
Eight of those little sweet morsels came in the package for a measly dollar. Yikes, saying measly in this economic climate probably is a bad thing. But seriously this was a great deal. They are all the good things a pastry should be. They are light and flaky, with a delicious apple filling and not to sweet glaze. Yum. And they're so tiny (that's a salad plate) you can have more than one. They're only two bites big. :-) I actually only had two, so that makes four bites. I might have another though. Have a great Weekend :-) Ciao!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Nana's Traditional Rice Pudding ~ Made Mini

My 96 year old grandmother has been on my mind a lot lately. She's not been feeling well and after a four day stay in the hospital, she's been spending time recuperating at my Mom's and my Aunt Judy's. Probably like most of us, I can hardly separate my grandmother from her cooking. There's a gene that runs through most of my family (not me) that I call the culinary gene. Nana is a patient teacher though and years ago she taught me how to make one of my favorite desserts, Rice Pudding.

Nana and I on Mother's Day 2010
I don't know what it is about the camera but I always seem to have this "squinty eyed" smile. Ugh! It will have to do 'cause it’s the most recent pic of have of us together.

I've been feeling pretty nostalgic and it just doesn't take much inspiration to send me back to the old days. One reason I'm sure is that I've been compiling a family holiday cookbook with a sort of "Through the Seasons" theme and Nana's Rice Pudding is a must include. The first photo represents how I usually serve it, but look below at some of the beautiful presentations. I'm excited to make the next batch.
Photo courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
Photo courtesy of My Rice is Heavenly
Photo courtesy of Tilda
It's kind of funny, but as I've begun compiling the menus and recipes, I realized that almost every dessert recipe I have made in recent years evolved into mini servings. As I thought about how that occurred, I remembered a Thanksgiving dinner over at my Aunt Ruth's house where my cousin asked if she could have half of a creme brulee and half of a chocolate mousse (which were already individual sizes, but not minis.) Everybody jumped on that band wagon because they didn't want to decide between this dessert and that dessert. Well it made for a mess after a few people took from the dishes, so the next time I brought desserts, I purchased different shaped candle votive candle holders and mini ramekins. They were a hit, and made for a really nice presentation. Everyone was so excited that they could take just one, two, three or more! They could sample everything. That was about 15 years ago and I'm still doing it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Two Bite Tuesday ~ May I get you something to drink?

If you've been reading my blog for awhile you might recall that back in May Rick and I went to Temecula, California to pick up our cocker spaniel puppies, Michael and Minnie. I love Temecula for a couple of reasons. First, it's sort of a mini Napa Valley with rolling hills and vineyards and beautiful weather. Now, of course, you can not be in wine country without touring the wineries and one of our favorites is Wilson Creek. Today's first bite is inspired by their Almond Joy which is a delicious Almond Champaign served in a Chocolate Cordial. We planned on having a "Meet the Pups" party as soon as they settled in so we bought a few bottles to celebrate their Wine Country roots. (Yeah, I know. It sounds crazy, but hey, any excuse for a party. Right?)

Wilson Creek Winery ~ Temecula, CA
First Bite ~ I found these fine little vessels while shopping over a World Market today and couldn't resist picking them up for our upcoming party.

Chocolate Toasting Cups and Dessert Shells
I bought the Dessert Shells as well because I am imagining serving a beautiful chocolate mousse with a swirl of whipped cream and dark chocolate shavings. 

In addition to the delicious Almond bubbly, Wilson Creek serves up a Gold Award winning Chocolate Dessert Port that is out of this world. I just ordered a couple of bottles to add to our beverage service. Sends shivers up my spine thinking about this double chocolate delight. Can you tell I love chocolate?
From 100 year old vines

In the spirit of well...spirits, our second bite also celebrates the drink. I've been looking, buying, and returning beverage dispensers all summer long. They all leaked! When I saw this one over at Pottery Barn I was skeptical but determined to find the perfect one so I bought it. The worst thing that could happen would be that I would have to return it too. I got it home, filled it up with water and tested it. Look Mom, no leaks!!! Yeah! We used it to serve up Brandi's Vampire Punch a couple of weeks ago for her photo shoot.

Second Bite ~ Pottery Barn Beverage Dispenser

With Twilight Vampire Punch
They come in two sizes and I got the larger one. I think I'd like to get the smaller one as well. Don't you just love it? I think next time I'll add fruit to the mix or make the ice cubes out of juice to color them. It will make for a very nice display. Check out Pottery Barn's pics below.

Beverage Display

Serving Iced Tea and Citrus Punch

On a PB Vintage Pedestal
I love the little pedestals, but you can use just about anything steady, or nothing at all and just place it close to an edge. I thought it would be cute to put them on a stack of books for a Book Club Party. Or maybe on glass blocks with lights inside. In a pinch I used an Anchor Hocking bowl turned upside down and put my angel tear lights inside to add a festive touch. I'm thinking it's time for a Tea Time Out. Have a great day! Ciao!