Thursday, February 16, 2012

She Will Cook on Valentine's Day

As mentioned in my last post, my goal is to make each and every holiday a special event in our household.  I use holidays as an opportunity to try out a new recipe and find new favorites!  Below is a breakdown of the three new recipes I got off of Pinterest!

Mini Puffed Oven Pancakes
Degree of Difficulty: 3
Mess Factor: 3
Taste: 8
I got up early to ensure I had time to make breakfast and get both Matt and Morgan out of the house and on their way to daycare/work by 8am.  I was originally planning to make regular pancakes, but I am so glad I found this recipe instead.  It was super easy and had breakfast on the table in 20 minutes! 

The recipe called for 4 ingredients (3/4 cup flour, 3/4 cup milk, 2 eggs and 1/8 t salt) and was put together in the mixer.  This was not only useful for quick mixing, but also easy pouring into the mini muffin tins.  They popped into the oven for 16 minutes and tasted perfect with a little bit of melted butter, powdered sugar, and fresh fruit. 

The only comment I would make is that when combining the ingredients in the mixer, add all of the wet ingredients first then add the flour last.  If you add the flour first, it doesn't always mix very well and can cake itself to the side of the mixer.  This happened with my first batch, not that it made much difference taste-wise. 

Slow Cooker Parmesan Honey Pork Roast
Degree of Difficulty: 5
Mess Factor: 4
Taste: 7
This was a fairly easy slow cooker recipe in that all of the ingredients were dumped into the crockpot, I set the temp to low and 6-7 hours later we were eating dinner.  The elevated degree of difficulty and mess factor is due to the last step which requires you to use the remaining sauce/jus to make a gravy with water and cornstarch.  Work had been a little stressful and I was still getting calls from clients, so I skipped this step and just served the pork.  I agree that the gravy probably would have made the dish even more flavorful and would have been a great addition to the rice, but what can you do?

This is a pic of the pork once we had taken it out of the crockpot.  It's a little dry without the gravy, but all in all pretty tasty.  I am thinking about geting some rolls and honey BBQ sauce to serve it with later this week. 

Salted Caramel Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars
Degree of Difficulty: 7
Mess Factor: 7
Taste: 9
Let me start off by saying, I HATE working with caramel!!!!  It's sticky, messy, takes forever to melt, and is so darn difficult to clean!  With that being said, these are so tasty, I would probably make them again.  The graham cracker crust and the cheesecake filling (used up 3 packages of cream cheese) were pretty easy to make.  The caramel glaze is really where I fell apart. 
Above is a picture of the cheesecake after it was baked.  The last step is the caramel glaze and even though it didn't actually have many steps, as I have already stated, I really don't do well with caramel.  I needed to melt 10 caramel chews (how I even had these leftover in my house is beyond me, Matt usually eats them) until they were creamy enough to mix with the dulce de leche and whipping cream.  I did not melt them enough and ended up with a giant clump of caramel in my dulce de leche whipping cream mixture.  I enlisted Matt's help (he is soooooo much more patient than me) to complete this step and once completed, the entire dessert went into the fridge to chill.

We cut into the cheesecake a little too early as I think it would have benefited from setting up a little more, but all in all it was delicious.  It tastes even better the 2nd and 3rd day.  I have no doubt it will taste equally as delicious the 4th and 5th day.  If it lasts for a 6th day I will be amazed!

Hopefully work will calm down enough for me to work on some craft and sewing projects, but who knows!  Until then, I hope everyone had a great Valentine's Day!


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

She Will Go a Little Crazy Preparing for Valentine's Day

Let me start off by saying my mother and I are VERY similar.  While I have always appreciated the flair my mother has for the holidays, it wasn't until I had my own little family that I truly appreciated the time and effort she put into making each holiday, no matter how small, special.  My mom may be the only person in my family who does not have any Irish blood, but she was always the one to cook the corned beef, cabbage, potatoes and carrots as well as dye the milk for dinner green!  I truly aspire to provide the same experience for my girls and to inspire my girls to pass that tradition on to their children.  With that being said, it takes a LOT of work to keep this craziness alive! 

This post is dedicated to my pre-Valentine's Day prep (literally the day before).  This is our first year with Morgan in daycare, so it provided me a great excuse to peruse Pinterest for the perfect toddler-appropriate Valentine!  We don't keep a lot of candy in our house because it gets eaten so quickly, so I knew that I didn't really want to give out candy for Valentine's Day.  I finally found the perfect idea using bubbles.  I was able to buy 3 packs of bubbles at the dollar store and use a free printable found HERE to create the below Valentines from Morgan to her daycare pals. 
Bubbles can be fun for all ages, but I did want to do something a little different for the 7 staff members.  This is the one project on which I wish I started earlier than the night before as I was not completely happy with the final product.  I found the Pencil Valentine tutorial HERE and while I think the tutorial was great, these were a LOT more time intensive than I expected.  It took me 15-20 minutes alone to score every 1/4 inch on the yellow paper so that when it rolled around the Rolos (inside the pencils), the paper still maintained the geometrical pencil look.  After spending the time on all of that, the rest felt a little rushed and I really needed to have spent more time putting it all together, ensuring the Rolo packages did not come out.  I also didn't have time to make tags, so I just wrote directly on the pencils.  Oh well, better luck next time!
I did get to try out a new dessert recipe for the daycare Valetine's Day party, S'Mores Cups.  My girlfriend, Kristin, has made these several times and they are always delicious.  I thought they would be easy enough to make for the party and would appeal to all of the kids (and staff). 

S'Mores Cups
Degree of Difficulty: 4
Mess Factor: 5
Taste: 8
These are not that difficult to make, but they do require a couple of steps, so keep that in mind.  The ingredient list is really small and if I didn't need to make 2 batches for the daycare party, I probably would have rated the degree of difficulty and mess factor even lower!

First, combine your graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar and melted butter in a bowl.  I almost always cheat and buy graham cracker crumbs instead of making my own.  One, because it GREATLY reduces the mess and two, because we go through actual graham crackers pretty quickly.  Using my 1 T measuring spoon, I scooped out perfect size proportions into the mini-cupcake tin and used the back of the measuring spoon to create the cup-like shape within the tin.  Then, I popped these suckers into a 350 degree oven for 4-5 minutes.
While the graham cracker cups were baking, I opened up my bag of Hershey's chocolate bars and split the little rectangles in half.  Half of each small rectangle was then placed in the slightly cooled cups. 

I was able to commandeer my husband, Matt, into helping, so he was in charge of cutting all of the marshmallows in half, which I then smushed into place within each graham cracker cup.  It's import to smush these a little bit so that the chocolate below melts and can keep the marshmallow adhered to the cup.  Then, place the tray back into the oven for 1-2 minutes to let the marshmallows heat and puff up.  Remove from the oven and let these babies cool before trying to pop them out or go any further, otherwise it can get quite messy!

After the cups were cooled, Matt melted more of the chocolate bar in a small bowl and dipped the top half of the cups into the melted chocolate.  I feel bad because I'm pretty sure Matt didn't get to try even one of these while I snuck one during breakfast the next morning.  The only change I would make if making them in the future (which I am 99% sure I will do), is to use dark chocolate.  My friend, Kristin, uses dark chocolate and I prefer the taste a little more.  We decided to go with Hershey's Milk Chocolate for these since they were being served to young children and I wasn't sure how all of the kids would feel about that.  I am selfish enough to want kids and adults, alike, to love and want more of my treats!

Whew!  That was a lot of stuff to do within a 3 hour timeframe (8pm to 11pm).  I am so lucky to have such a great husband willing to help me and indulge me in my crazy projects!



Monday, February 13, 2012

She Will Make Delicious Brownies!

Brownies are my absolute favorite dessert!  While brownies made from scratch are delicious, I actually prefer most box mixes, especially any box mix made by Ghiradelli!  Below is a recipe that I threw together to jazz up a box of brownies (like they really need to be jazzed up)!  Enjoy! 

Chocolate Raspberry Brownies
Degree of Difficulty: 3
Mess Factor: 3
Taste: 9

In addition to a brownie box mix and its corresponding ingredients, you will be using a jar of raspberry jam/jelly/preserves.  I prefer preserves with the seeds so that I can actually tell it is raspberry I am eating!
Make the mix as directed on the box, then pour into a greased pan.  The box recommends an 8x8 or 9x9 pan, but after some experimenting, we found a round cake pan actually works the best.  You get a little bit of a crust plus plenty of gooey middle! 

Take the lid off of the preserves and place it in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.  After pouring the brownie mix into the pan, spoon globs of the slightly warmed preserves on the mix.  Using a knife, swirl the globs throughout the mix and place in the oven. 

The first batch we made (in the square pan), we baked for 40 minutes (box called for 40-45 minutes).  The second batch (in the round pan), we baked for 38 minutes and I think they came out much better.  The middle stayed a lot gooier, while not being undercooked. 
All in all, this is a super easy recipe if you want to make something a little more exciting than a regular brownie mix.  I feel confident this would work equally well with any brownie mix, but I can't wait to try it with the Ghiradelli dark chocolate mix!

I know I have been missing in blog action for a little bit but we have been quite under the weather at our house.  With Valentine's Day fast approaching (tomorrow eek!), I have lots of projects and recipes that will be completed in the next day or two so be prepared for an onslaught of posts this week!


Thursday, February 2, 2012

She Will Finally Complete a Baby Blanket!

I realize that I have not posted anything in a little over a week, but I really have been busy working on projects!  This baby blanket project has actually been in progress for over 2 weeks and I finally finished it last night!  As with my first sewing project, the "super easy" pillow cover, the seam ripper and I spent a LOT of time together. 

The inpiration for this project is a blanket a good friend of mine gave me when we found out we were pregnant with Morgan.  It is a beautiful blanket that we used constantly for Morgan's first 4-6 months of life.  Everywhere we went we would bring this blanket and lay it on the floor so she not only had a clean space to play but also so we wouldn't get spit up all over someone else's floor (my daughter could and would projectile spit up at any given moment). A co-worker of mine is also pregnant with a girl and is due 3 weeks after me.  I had originally planned to sew this blanket for her daughter, but as you will soon see there are quite a lot of mistakes and frankly, it is my pride and joy, so I probably won't be giving it up anytime soon. 

Let's start with a picture of the inspiration blanket.  When I brought this blanket in to the fabric store and told her what I wanted to do, she suggested I start with something a little more simple (READ: do not put one big square in the middle with a minky border).  I assured her I was up for the challenge and all she could do was remind me that this was not a project for someone with OCD.  While I admit that I do have a minor case of OCD, I have pretty much let that go when sewing, so this was not an issue.

After selecting some bright and fun fabric for this project, I used my brand new quilting ruler to cut out my squares, then carefully pin them together.  I find that I actually really enjoyed cutting the squares with my rolling cutter, cutting mat, and new ruler!

After getting all of the patchwork sides together, I needed to measure and determine the length for the middle square and surrounding minky border.  Let me tell you, this was a HUGE pain in the BUTT!  Math is not my strongest subject and I haven't exactly mastered sewing, so when all of the patchwork sides were finally sewn around the middle square, there were a lot of mismatched points, as evidenced in the picture below.

By this time, I wanted to get this project over with, so I really did NOT care about perfection. 
I then pinned the flannel back fabric to the front patchwork and proceeded to sew the two pieces entirely together (no room to turn it right side out).  At this point, I did a half cry and half laugh.  After one day of mental rest, I picked up my trusty seam ripper, ripped out one side and carefully sewed up all but 6 inches of one side.  I pulled the baby right side out and voila!
In order to close up the opening, I placed a top stitch about 1/4 inch all around the edge of the blanket. 
The final step in this crazy project was to "stitch in the ditch" as the JoAnn saleslady advised me.  Basically, I sewed all around the large inner square.  By this point, I was really tired and as previously stated, not in the mood for perfection, so it isn't the most straight line and it is visible on some parts of the quilt. 

At the end of the day, despite all of the little mistakes, I am SUPER proud of my first baby blanket!  Plus, I have found that I really LOVE to cut and sew together patchwork squares.  I will probably use the remaining fabric to make another baby blanket, but ONLY 6 inch patchwork squares.  NO CRAZY MIDDLE!  Maybe the next one will look less crazy and I can give that to my co-worker as a play mat for her daughter. 

Not much more cooking this week, but I am sure I will have at least one more project to post about next week.  My husband has been off this week and has been hard at work on several different projects (I put together a fairly extensive list for him)!