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September 27, 2010

My Life | Our Wedding in Seaside, Fl.

After a short engagement (read about our engagement story, here), we've decided on our wedding venue and date... The Inn By The Sea in Seaside, Florida in October 2010.

We'll be married on the front porch of The Inn - some of our guests will be able to stay in the 9 room Inn, and the other guests will rent cottages in the tiny town.

We visited Seaside two years ago on our first vacation together - it is a magical place that we are so excited to share with our guests.

Seaside is a picturesque American beach town centered around a classic town square... you may recognize it - The Truman Show was filmed there.

We think Seaside will be a great get-a-way for our family and friends... we really like the idea of everyone spending the entire weekend together celebrating in this special place.

The Inn is located on a corner about 50 yards from the beach. The ceremony will take place on the front porch, then the reception will be in the back yard. Simple.

This is my favorite room in the Inn - "True Blue". All of the rooms feature Vera Bradley fabrics and designs.

It is a second story room with a balcony : )

The dining room... features Vera Bradley patterns and china.

Home | Stripping Furniture | Farmhouse Harvest Table | DIY Stripping Furniture

As you may have observed on this blog, I'm constantly painting things... repainting them, stripping them, then repainting, again.  It is a problem.  However, it does come from a good place - redecorating by shopping from your own house.

I bought this table 5 years ago.  It has evolved many times... From varnished top with a white painted base, to all over black semi-gloss, to a matte black and the most recent?  Naked.  You may have noticed this bare wood trend at Restoration Hardware, and other home design stores.  I love the bare, aged, reclaimed look this table now has.  It is gone from an eye-sore to a character piece for $15 and 1 hour of work.

AFTER : Bare Wood

BEFORE : Black Semi-Gloss... ick

September 24, 2010

Entertaining | Fall Harvest Dinner Party | Butternut Squash Soup, Seared Steaks & Apple Crisp

Yesterday was the first day of Fall - I had to run to the farmer's market to pick up some of my favorite heirloom pumpkins, squash and gourds.

Here is a fun seasonal table setting for your next Fall Dinner Party.

Whether it be fresh flowers or farm fresh pumpkins - have something from nature as your centerpiece.

When your guests arrive, offer them a glass of wine, then this hunk of cheese, crackers and cashews is the perfect light start.

Roasted Butternut & Apple Soup

1 butternut squash
2 sweet apples (not granny smith)
2 tablespoons of salt & pepper
2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 tablespoons of butter
1 yellow onion
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of vegetable stock
1 cup of apple cider
1/4 cup of cream

Peel and cube the squash and apples.  Place them on a baking sheet, toss with olive oil, salt & pepper and roast them in a 425 degree oven for 25 minutes until the squash is soft.  In a stock pot, saute the garlic and onions in butter until soft.

Add the squash and apples to the onions along with stock and cider.  Cook for 15 minutes until bubbly.  Puree the mixture in a blender or food processor.

Serve hot and garnish with cream, salt & pepper.

For the entree, I served a steak with a simple wine and mushroom reduction.  A light salad of field greens is a good compliment to the indulgent steak.

Steaks with a Mushroom Wine Reduction

4 - 8 oz. Strip Steaks
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt & Pepper
2 tablespoons of butter
2 cups of mushrooms
1 cup of red wine
2 tablespoons of heavy cream
1 teaspoon of dijon mustard

Coat the steaks liberally with salt & pepper.  In a saute pan, heat the olive oil and sear steaks on each side for 3 minutes.  Place the steaks on a baking sheet and put them in a 450 degree oven for 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness of steaks.

In the saute pan used with the steaks, lower the heat and saute the butter and mushrooms.  After 2 minutes, at the wine, scraping the pan to get all of the bits off of the bottom.  Add in the cream and dijon and simmer the sauce until slightly thickened.  Pour over the steaks to serve.

This apple crisp is the perfect finish to a Fall Harvest Dinner Party... with ice cream, of course.

Get the recipe for the Apple Crisp Here.

September 23, 2010

Press | Featured on Nice Little Party | Interview with Jenny Steffens

This week I was interviewed by the folks at "Nice Little Party" - a great page for all of us home entertaining fans.

Here's a link to the interview! 


photo by claire ryser
We caught up with entrepreneur, event planner, and blogger Jenny Steffens, who started her own event-planning shop, Occasions in 2005. Although Jenny came from a journalism and PR background, from her love of entertaining, design, cooking, crafting and creating, she created Occasions Entertaining. Along with planning intimate dinner parties, lavish showers and cocktail events, Jenny has designed and coordinated weddings for her Clients for the past 4 years. Check out her tips and tricks on hosting a memorable get-together on a budget, and more! Jenny’s blog is a must read for anyone interested in cooking and entertaining.

Q: How did you get into event planning and what made you decide to start your own business, Occasions?

A: I started by helping friends plan their weddings, bridal showers and special events.  The natural progression of Occasions developed from there!  The business model is constantly evolving and changing to adapt to the market and my lifestyle... one of the many advantages to being self-employed.  Currently, I'm working on taking more and more of my business online - blogging all about home entertaining, recipes, projects for our house, weddings and the holidays.

Q: Where do you draw your inspiration from for your various events?

A:  I read a lot of magazines, entertaining books, websites and blogs.  However, most of the time I just think about what I would want if it were my party - I always go for seasonal, simple, bountiful, special & fun.  My style has evolved from my upbringing out in a small town in the country, and role models like The Barefoot Contessa and Martha Stewart.    

Q: It seems like you love to host people in your home, what is the best advice you can give to those looking to start entertaining but aren’t sure how to throw an event together?

A: Don't overwhelm yourself with several complicated homemade recipes.  Select one or two special things to prepare, then make everything else really easy - assemble bountiful artisan cheese platters, purchase bakery desserts (that are delicious) and do big arrangements of simple flowers like hydrangeas.  No one can mess that up!  Also, I like to do manageable sizes of parties - dinner parties for 6, outdoor BBQs for 10, cocktail parties for 14.  I find if we entertaining for more than that at a time, it becomes like work and I don't enjoy myself.

Q: How can someone throw together a great event on a budget? What are some shortcuts that can be made without sacrificing too much style?

A: Instead of doing a full bar, serve a fun cocktail for before dinner, then serve wine at the table.  It will take everyone out of their normal drink shell and let them have a little more fun while being budget friendly at the same time.  Also, invest in only one special menu item - a steak frites dinner party can be really inexpensive because the only thing you have to invest in is the steak.  Potatoes for the frites are inexpensive, and no one will remember anything else after a fabulous steak anyway.  For the Fall Entertaining, a soup party is a great way to throw a party on a budget.  (I'll be doing a post on that today!)

Q: What’s the most memorable dinner party you’ve ever attended?

A: My friends threw Mike & Me a fabulous Engagement Party in the backyard.  They had done so many little touches - lights through the trees, lanterns everywhere, and had all of our best friends and family members around one long table.  It was perfect.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect about your job, and the most challenging?
A: Many times I'm working with people and families during very special moments in their lives - weddings, baby showers, holiday parties, etc.  Naturally, these moments can be stressful because of the importance they hold - I do everything possible to relieve their stress so they can really be present in these special moments and enjoy the occasion.  It can sometimes be a daunting task - but so worth it in the end when your Client expresses their gratitude so thoughtfully. 

Q: What’s a day in the life of Jenny like?

A: Mr. Darcy, my dog, and I walk every morning.  We stroll through our neighborhood and observe the seasonal changes - I find it is a great way for me to open my mind and get ready for a creative and productive day.  The rest of the morning is typically spent in my office (or at the kitchen counter!) on my laptop working on my websites and blogging.  In the afternoon, if I don't have a meeting with a Client, I'll work on a project for our house, a wedding craft for a bride, arrange flowers for an event, or make something fun for the blog.  I've been spending a lot of time working with my new camera to improve the quality of photos on the blogs.  In the evening, I make dinner for Mike and myself every night. 

Workshops | Halloween Harvest Cooking Class | Easy Fall Entertaining for a Large Group

Join us for another workshop at A Thyme For Everything in Lee's Summit on October 14th!

Halloween Harvest Party : Easy & Elegant Party Food for a Large Group

Look at all of these heirloom pumpkins, squash & gourds!  

We'll use all of the season's bounty to make recipes that are great for Fall Entertaining featuring heirloom pumpkins and squash.

Turks Turbine Winter Squash Dip with Chipotle and Garlic
Marinated Pork Tenderloin Apple & Brie Open-Faced Baguette
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Sausage & Couscous Stuffed Acorn Squash
Individual Apple & Pear Crisps

Festive Fall & Spooky Halloween Decor Ideas!

Take home Heirloom Pumpkins, Squash & Gourds from Fahrmeier Farms.

To register for the class, visit

Recipes | Chicken with Olives and Angel Hair Pasta for $10.50

Like all good recipes, this one is so simple... Olives, Olive Oil Chicken & Pasta. With the addition of a little champagne and a topping of a high quality parmesan reggiano and this recipe is perfect for a special occasion.

Olive Topped Chicken with Angel Hair

1 pound of chicken, butterflied and halved ($3.50)
1 pound of angel hair ($1)
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1/4 cup of chicken stock OR 1/4 cup of Champagne** or White Wine ($2)
1 cup of olives, chopped ($3)
4 cloves of garlic, minced ($.50)
1/2 of a lemon, juiced ($.50)
parmesan cheese, fresh grated
sea salt & black pepper

**I like to buy mini bottles of wine or champagne to keep in the fridge. The are about $2 each, so they are great for a weeknight dinner when you don't want to open an entire bottle.

Cook pasta according to directions.

Season the chicken on both sides with Salt & Pepper. Start by sautéing the chicken in a pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Depending on the size, 2-3 minutes on each side until good color has developed. Remove the chicken and set it aside. Add garlic into the pan and cook for 30 seconds. Deglaze the pan with chicken stock or Champagne/White Wine. Stir with a wooden spoon and try to get all of the bits from the bottom of the pan to incorporate into the wine.

In to the same sauté pan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, olives and lemon juice, stirring over a medium heat to remove all of the bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the sauce for 2-3 minutes.

To serve, place angel hair on a platter, top with the chicken, and pour the olive sauce over the chicken. Top with fresh parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of sea salt & pepper.

This entire dinner will cost about $10.50 (if you have the parmesan at home - you should!)

Recipes | Quick Shrimp Pad Thai Inspired Recipe for $15

For dinner last night, I made this pad thai inspired shrimp recipe. The spicy, tangy lime juice and fresh vegetables make this dinner super satisfying. Total cost for this dinner is $15.

2 tablespoons of oil (vegetable, olive...)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of mushrooms
2 carrots, chopped
1/4 cup of baby corn
1/4 cup of water chestnuts
10 scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon of chili paste
3 limes, juiced
1 cup of water
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
1/2 pound of angel hair, linguine or rice noodles
1/4 cup of chopped peanuts

Cook the pasta according to the directions.

In a sauté pan, cook shrimp in oil with garlic for about 3 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Add a bit more olive oil to the pan, if necessary, and saute the carrots, mushrooms, baby corn and water chestnuts for 2-3 minutes.

Mix together chili paste, lime juice, brown sugar, red pepper flakes and soy sauce. Pour into saute pan with vegetables. Cook for 2-3 minutes until bubbly. Reduce heat.

Add in scallions, shrimp & pasta. Toss. Garnish with chopped peanuts.

Total cost = $15

September 19, 2010

Recipes | Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Garlic & Thyme

There is nothing better on rainy Sunday than a Classic Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Thyme... complete with mashed potatoes and gravy, of course.  I love to fix this when we're both home all day, because it makes the house smell so delicious.  Being just roasted chicken and vegetables, this is a relatively healthy dinner.  If you decide to go the mashed potatoes and gravy route (which I think you definitely should), you can control how much gravy and the amount of potatoes you prepare. 

Another reason I love this is because it requires very little prep (10 minutes to stuff everything in the chicken and chop the vegetables?) and even less clean up...  basically a one pot dinner.   Just be sure to allow 1 hour for roasting the chicken.  

Classic Roasted Chicken 
with Lemon & Thyme

3-4 pound whole Chicken
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of Sea Salt
1 teaspoon of Pepper
1 head of garlic, cut in half
1 lemon, quartered
10 sprigs of thyme
3 carrots, largely chopped
1 yellow onion, quartered
10 mushrooms, halved
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock

Sprinkle salt & pepper inside the chicken cavity, then stuff it with the garlic, lemon & thyme. Place it in a dutch oven. Place the vegetables around the chicken, then drizzle them and the chicken with olive oil. Salt & Pepper generously.

Roast at 425 degrees for 50-60 minutes (depending on the size of your chicken).   Remove the chicken from the pan, cover with foil and allow it to rest.  Place the dutch oven on the stove top on a medium heat. While stirring, add 2 tablespoons of flour to the fat drippings from the chicken, then 1 - 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock. Whisk until smooth. Cook 5 minutes until thick and bubbly. If you'd like to thicker gravy, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave, then add 2-3 tablespoons of flour to it.  Mix it in with the gravy. 

September 15, 2010

Home | DIY | Wooden Hutch for our Dining Room

Not ones to be reluctant to try something new, Mike and I tried our first (and successful) attempt at making furniture. We made a huge wood hutch for our dining room to hold all of our new wedding presents.

Materials = $250

14 pieces of 1 x 12 x 8 oak
4 pieces of 1 x 4 x 8 oak
1 piece of chunky crown molding (9.5 linear feet)
finish nails
wood screws
screw driver
table saw
miter saw
1 pint of walnut stain
1 pint of hand rubbing polyurethane

We started by cutting the back pieces (6 - 1 x 12's side-by-side) to be 7 1/2 feet long (height of the hutch). To age the wood, we used a hammer, rocks, nails, etc. to create divots in the wood. we sanded all of the edges of each piece, weathering the wood. After distressing, we stained the wood with a walnut stain and applied a coat of polyurethane.

To assemble the stained and distressed wood we created a box on our garage floor consisting of the sides, top and bottom of the hutch. We placed the planks that would to make up the back on the wood box and attached it with screws. Then, we stood it up and installed the shelves, screwing them in from the sides and back to add stability. We attached the 1 x 4 pieces to the front of the cabinet with finish nails.

We cut the crown molding to fit the top of the cabinet and stained and distressed it separately. We had to install it once it was in the dining room or it would not have fit.

Recipes | Baked Scallops, Caesar Salad, Prosciutto, and Crusty Italian Bread

As I begin planning our honeymoon to Italy, I find myself pouring over scrumptious sounding menus of restaurants we plan to visit. The simple options of fresh fare have inspired me. This dinner took me just 15 minutes to prepare and it was fabulous. I served the scallops with thinly sliced prosciutto, warm crusty bread and a crunchy salad.

Baked Scallops (serves 2)

1 pound of sea scallops
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of white wine
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1/2 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Sea Salt & Pepper

Place the scallops in a heavy baking dish. Mix together olive oil, wine, garlic, shallot, rosemary, red pepper, lemon, salt & pepper. Pour the mixture over the scallops. Bake at 425 degrees for 12 minutes.

Recipes | Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan Sticky Buns

From New Blog

That's right... chocolate, cinnamon, pecans and puff pastry. I created this from a Barefoot Contessa recipe and, using Ina's own phrasing, "turned the volume up" by adding chocolate. What a great start to the day, right?

Chocolate, Pecan & Cinnamon Sticky Buns

Topping :
2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 1/2 sticks of butter, softened
1/3 cup of packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup of chocolate chips
1/2 cup of pecan, chopped

Filling :
2 tablespoons of butter, softened
2/3 cup of packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons of cinnamon

Combine butter, brown sugar, chocolate chips and pecans. Place 1 tablespoon of the mixture in the bottom of each cup in a muffin pan.

Unfold a sheet of puff pastry and spread it with 1 tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the brown sugar, and 1 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon over the pastry. Roll the dough snugly into a log. Cut the log into 6 pieces. Place a roll (spiraled side up) in each one of the cups. Repeat with the 2nd sheet of puff pastry to make 12 buns.

Place the muffin tin on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the buns from the oven and let them sit for 5 minutes. Invert the buns onto a platter and serve warm.

Recipes | Shrimp & Mushroom Pasta in a Light Tomato Cream Sauce

This pasta is fast, cheap and tasty. It is a fantastic simple meal to fix for an impromptu dinner party.

Shrimp & Mushroom Pasta with a Light Tomato Cream Sauce

serves 4

1 1/2 pound of shrimp, peeled
10 mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 large can of whole tomatoes, drained and crushed by hand
1/4 cup of heavy cream
fresh parmesan
fresh basil (optional)
Sea salt
1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 pound of pasta

Add the pasta to boiling water just as you begin the following steps. This should time the pasta to be done just as the sauce is ready.

Start by sautéing the mushrooms in olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds being careful not to burn it. Add in the crushed tomatoes. Reduce to simmer and cook for 3-5 minutes on low. Season with Salt and crushed red pepper flakes to taste.

Raise the heat to medium high and add the shrimp to the tomato mixture. Cook the shrimp for about 2 minutes, then stir in the heavy cream. Turn off the heat.

Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, set aside. Drain the pasta and put the pasta (without rinsing) into the sauce. Toss. If the sauce needs thinning, add a small amount of the reserved pasta water. Top with fresh grated parmesan cheese and fresh basil.

Weekend Recipes

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September 06, 2010

Recipes | Grilled Flat Iron Steak, Grilled Bread con Tomate & Grilled Corn with Basil, Lemon & Garlic Vinaigrette

This weekend we had a late dinner at Michael Smith's Extra Virgin in Kansas City's Crossroad District. It was fabulous. We started with a Lobster & Churizo Fried Rice, then had an excellent seared flat iron steak, Panna Con Tomate (Grilled Bread with Tomato) and ended our night with fresh fried donuts drizzled in chocolate. So delicious.

For tonight's dinner, I wanted to try a couple of these items for a fresh late summer Labor Day Weekend meal.

Grilled Flat Iron Steak
Grilled Corn on the Cob with Basil, Lemon & Garlic Vinaigrette
Sliced Avocado
Grilled Bread with Fresh Tomato Puree

The bread, in my opinion, was the star of the show.

1 soft baguette (I find these in the bakery section at the grocery - they are partially baked that you finish baking at home)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tomato
1 clove of garlic
parmesan cheese

I pureed a tomato in my new mini food processor and let the liquid drain out by placing it in a paper towel lined colander. I drizzled a (soft) baguette with olive oil, then grilled it face down for about 3 minutes. After I removed it from the grill, I rubbed a garlic clove over the grilled side of the bread, then topped it with the tomato puree and some parmesan.

Recipes | Apple Crisp | Oatmeal Crumb Topping

Oh my gosh.  When I was making this and the orange zest hit the cinnamon and apples... my kitchen smelled like Fall and Christmas all at the same time.  It was really something else.  I almost left the orange zest out - it would have been a huge mistake.  It absolutely made the dish.

 I made this as part of a really casual dinner we had with friends.  This crisp, along with my Italian Beef & Vegetable Stew was the perfect Fall dinner.

Apple Cranberry Crisp

Apple Cranberry Filling :
10 apples (4 pounds), cored and peeled
3/4 cup of dried cranberries
2 teaspoons of orange zest
4 tablespoons of orange juice
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of flour
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg

Crumble Topping :
1 cup of flour
1/2 cup of oatmeal
1/2 cup of sugar
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1/2 tsp of salt
1 1/2 stick of butter, cold

Cut the peeled and cored apples to large cubes, about 3/4 inch pieces.  Place them in a large bowl.  Add cranberries, zest, orange juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Toss together with a big spoon until all of the fruit is well coated.  Pour the fruit into a casserole dish or deep baking dish.
For the topping, in a mixer with the paddle attachment, place flour, sugar, brown sugar and salt.  Cut the cold butter into 1/4 inch cubes.  Place the butter in with the flour mixture and mix on medium until the butter incorporates to create and crumbly mixture, about 2 minutes.  Take handfuls of the mixture and top the apples with it.  Cover the top completely. 
If freezing, wrap tightly, label and put it in the freezer.  When you get it our of the freezer, bake for 1:15 - 1:30 at 350 degrees. 
If baking right away, bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

If you're not a cranberry fan, you can easily leave them out and just have an apple crisp, but the tart cranberries make it really special for me.

I soaked the dried cranberries in the orange juice to plump them up a little bit while I made the filling.  As I mentioned, the orange zest really put this over the top.

I peeled and chunked the apples, then added flour, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Then I added the cranberries in orange juice and tossed it all together.  I used this deep baking dish from Target which worked perfectly... I think it was $10!

I topped it with the crisp mixture of butter, sugar, salt and flour.  It is basically a crumbled buttery sugar cookie on top.  Yum.

Ready for the oven, or fridge/freezer if you're making in advance.

Hot and bubbly!


 Here is the easy-to-pin strip! 
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