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January 31, 2012

Valentine's Day Guide | Crafts, Desserts, Recipes, Iced Cookies & Homemade Gifts

Get all of my Valentine's Day ideas, recipes, crafts, DIY gifts, sugar cookies and downloads in one spot... my Valentine's Day Guide!

Vanilla Bean Paste | This will change your baking!

Vanilla Bean Paste, $12
a whole new level of vanilla

If you are like me and have been swooned by the warm, seductive flavor of real vanilla beans, then this will change your life - available in my store for $12.  Well, at least your baking.  It is a thick, gel syrup that is packed full of real vanilla bean seeds - you can use it in the place of Vanilla Extract in any recipe.  No scraping, no cutting the beans in half, these seeds are already harvested.  At $12 for the entire bottle you can use all you'd like.  Add the power of real vanilla beans and those luscious black specs of vanilla beans to coffee, whipped cream, sugar cookies, custard sauce, cheesecake, brownie mix... whatever will make your day! 

Some of my favorite Vanilla Bean Recipes :

Meringues on Warm Vanilla Bean Custard

Vanilla Syrup | Vanilla Bean Simple Syrup

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake


January 30, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup | Healthy Chicken & Vegetable Packed Mexican Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

a healthy, veggie packed recipe

There are many different versions of Chicken Tortilla Soup out there.  Most versions are called Chicken Tortilla Soup because the soup is thickened with corn tortillas that are softened in the broth, then pureed... my Chicken Tortilla Soup is not one of those versions.  Not because I don't like those versions, but because I didn't want to get my blender out and because I was looking to make a healthier version.  So... I'm calling my soup Chicken Tortilla Soup because it reminds me of those soups, but in reality it is more like a Mexican Chicken & Vegetable Soup.  And it is good.  Really good.

When I am making an effort to be healthy I don't like to limit myself from things I like (dessert, cheese, chocolate, pizza, pasta...), instead, I add things that are more healthy like extra fruits and veggies.   This soup helps me do that.  It is full of vegetables (carrots, tomatoes, spinach...) and roasted chicken, but it still has a just enough of the 'good' stuff (and by 'good' stuff I mean 'not-so-good' stuff : sour cream, avocado and cheese) to make it satisfying.  It is a chunky, vegetable packed soup that is full of flavor.  If you do want to make it really healthy, skip the garnishes.   

Chicken Tortilla Soup

a healthy, veggie packed recipe

1 pound of chicken breasts
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of taco seasoning

2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 carrots, large dice
1 (10 oz.) can of Rotel (tomatoes with Green Chiles)
1 (32 oz) can of whole tomatoes
1 quart of chicken stock
4 cups of spinach
4 green onions, diced
Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper
1/4 cup of heavy cream (optional)

Garnishes :
Sour Cream
Tortilla Chips
Green Onion

Roast Chicken :
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  On a baking sheet, place chicken breasts, then drizzle with olive oil.  Season all sides with taco seasoning.  Bake for 20+ minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the breasts.

Soup :
In a pot, cook garlic and carrots on medium heat for a couple of minutes.  Add tomatoes, rotel and chicken stock.  Season with salt and pepper, if needed.  Bring to a simmer.  Add spinach.  Cook the soup for 10 minutes until the flavors are well combined.  Finish the soup with heavy cream to add richness (optional).

When the chicken has cooked completely, shred it with a fork.  Place the chicken into the soup.  Serve hot with garnishes.



January 28, 2012

Valentine's Day Sugar Cookies | Heart Cookies for Emma's Baptism

Emma's Baptism Cookies

Emma is making her first trip back to Kansas City next week... on the outside, anyway.  While we are there she is going to be baptized at my family's Church in Lexington.  She'll be wearing the same Christening gown that my Dad, my sister and I wore - in the same Church at which we were baptized.  It is a beautifully simple gown that was handmade... by someone.  I'll have to find out who - I'm sure my Grandma will be able to fill me in.

my cookie decorating helper... snoozing on the job

After the service, we will be hosting a brunch for our family.  I'm thrilled to actually get to plan a party!  Since we've moved to Boston I've done a lot of writing about planning parties, but I haven't gotten to plan nearly as many as I did when I was an event planner and caterer in Kansas City.  While I don't miss loading and unloading platters, flowers and linens from my car, I do miss the excitement of envisioning,  then executing an event.  Anytime I start to plan a party my head starts spinning with florals, whimsical desserts, linens, color schemes... really fun for someone like me.  There is nothing that quite gets me going like planning a party.

For Emma's Baptism Brunch, I'll have limited time and resources as it will be held in the church... and I will be jumping from Moo-Moo's to Mi-Mi's (the grandmas...) so, I've prepared some sugar cookies ahead of time.  I decided that a heart theme would be appropriate since it is so close to Valentines Day.  Still in the 'hand-stitched' mode from the Holidays, I made the cookies to look like an embroidery sampler with an eclectic mix of shapes and patterns.  I modeled the different patterns off of the various dresses and outfits of hers that I love. 

Here's a link to my Sugar Cookie (and more Valentine's Day Cookies...) recipe!

My decorating area... when I decorate sugar cookies it takes over my entire kitchen.  It is quite the project.

I just made 'dots' to form the clusters of roses, then used a pastry bag snipped at an angle to create the leaves.  I think this is a cleaner, more modern way of creating that classic rosebud icing decoration that we're used to seeing on cakes.

I packed up the cookies in ziplock bags for the freezer to keep them fresh.  I'm going to check them in my suitcase at the airport... fingers crossed that most of them will arrive in one piece!

Here's a link to my Sugar Cookie (and more Valentine's Day Cookies...) recipe!


January 20, 2012

Ottoman Tutorial | DIY Ottoman $50 | Emma's Nursery

I do not hesitate to invest in furniture pieces that will last a lifetime.  Somethings, however, I can't stand to spend money on.  For Emma's nursery (to see all of the photos, click here!), we spent our money on the Crib and Chair.  I knew I would need a high quality and comfortable chair, and we selected a classic crib that will never go out of style so I didn't mind spending the money on those two items.

When we went to order the ottoman that went along with the rocker/glider from Pottery Barn Kids, I was shocked that it was almost $450!  For a little padded box?  I just couldn't do it.  So, Mike and I set out on a mission to create our own matching ottoman.  With great success we created a perfectly suited version for less than $50.  We were so excited that we made a coffee table version for our living room, too.

DIY Ottoman Materials : 

4" Foam Pad
Soft Wool Batting
Staple Gun & Staples
Cream Twill
4 Furniture Legs

Here is the photo DIY :

Mike made a box out of plywood screwed together.

 We topped it with a 4" piece of foam.
 Then covered the entire top and sides with batting, stapling it underneath.
 We turned the box over, foam side down to cover the box.

 We repeated the step with a soft wool batting for a smooth finish under the final twill upholstery fabric.

 I covered the entire thing in a cream twill upholstery that I ordered from Pottery Barn to match the chair.  I created the cover by draping the fabric inside out, then tapering the sides with pins.  Then I sewed seems down the sides and where the pins were to create a tight slip cover.  I trimmed the excess and then stapled it underneath.  To finish, I glued a square of fabric on the underside of the ottoman for a finished look. 
Here you can see how I pinned down the sides to create a tight slipcover.

To complete, just attach furniture legs.  We bought legs and the mounts at Home Depot for about $15 total... I'm still trying to decide if I like the legs we selected, or if I want something chunkier.  They have many other choices there.  After I decide, then I'll need to decide if I want to paint or stain them... or leave them natural.  Never ends!  I'll keep you posted on how I finish them!

January 19, 2012

Cherry Almond Shortbread Heart Cookies | Valentine's Day Cookies

This is my first time making shortbread cookies.  I had never really had much interest... as you know, Sugar Cookies are my specialty.  I thought, what could be better than a Sugar Cookie?  After mowing through a box of Girl Scout Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies, I got addicted to that crumbly, sandy texture of shortbread.  Combine that with, Valentine's Day and a craving for the Cherry Almond Cupcakes I made last Spring... boom, Cherry Almond Shortbread Heart Cookies are born!

These not to sweet, crumbly, buttery, sophisticated cookies are the perfect Adult cookie.  They have a delicate texture and flavor that overly decadent cookies (think double chocolate chunk...) can't match.  The addition of dried cherries gives a touch or red and tartness that is magical!  And like most good things in life, they are simple.  Only a couple of ingredients.  No leavening, no eggs.  Just a classic and simple cookie.

Package these in cellophane bags (you can buy here in my online store) with a ribbon and give them to your lady friends or serve them with coffee for dessert at your next bridge party.  They are 'that' kind of cookie. 

Cherry Almond Shortbread
classic cookies with a cherry twist

3/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups small diced dried cherries

In a mixer, cream together butter and sugar for 3 minutes.  Add vanilla and almond.  Slowly stir in flour and salt.  Mix until mixture begins to come together into a ball.  Add diced cherries.  Dump the mixture onto a floured surface and form into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes (if you have time).

Roll out the dough to 1/4 inch (I like them thick) and cut into shapes.  Bake at 350 degrees on a silpat lined baking sheet for 18-20 minutes, until the edges brown just slightly.


Another Cherry Almond Recipe... 

Cherry Almond Cupcake Recipe

January 18, 2012

Steak with Wine Shallot Mushroom Cream Sauce & Mashed Potatoes

As a new Mom, I have a new found respect for what "Quick & Easy" really means.  For me not only does it need to be quick from refrigerator to dinner table, but it must be easy to clean up, too.  Oh, and it must be something for which I already have the ingredients at home.

Before Emma was born, I stocked the freezer and pantry with items I use on a regular basis so I would be able to make all of my favorites without leaving the house.  So, after a major Costco trip, our house is now fully stocked with the essentials (more about this later).  It has helped me to be able to continue to make dinner every night - and force a little creativity on my part, too.

This is a great example of what you can do with even a minimally stocked freezer and pantry.  It might not look like a dinner that you throw together on a Monday night, but it is... in about 20 minutes with 2 pans.  I said Monday night because we always have a leftover bottle of wine from the weekend so I try to use it up on Monday night, or I freeze it to use later (again, more on freezer tips later).

The trick to making this meal stretch is slicing the steak.  When you slice on strip steak it easily turns into enough for two - especially when served with a hearty mushroom sauce.  All I need to make sure I have for this dinner is one steak (to share between the two of us), mushrooms and some leftover wine.  Everything else are pantry items or from the refrigerator I always have around.  If you don't happen to have potatoes, use rice, egg noodles, bow tie pasta or risotto... or whatever else you can come up with.

Sliced Steak 
with Wine Shallot Mushroom Cream Sauce
serves 2

1 strip steak (8-12 ounces)
sea salt & cracked pepper
2 tablespoons of butter
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 shallot, sliced
1 1/2 cups of mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup of wine
1/2 cup of beef broth
1/2 tablespoon of dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of sour cream

Coat steak in salt and pepper, generously.  Heat a skillet on high.  Put 1 tablespoon of butter in the pan, then top it with the steak immediately.  Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side (less if the steak is thinner than 1 inch and more if the steak is really thick).  Remove steak from the pan and set it aside.

Lower the heat.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, then add mushrooms and shallot.  Cook them for 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften.  Add garlic and cook for just 1 minute.  Pour in wine and broth.  Cook for 3-5 minutes on high until the liquid begins to reduce.  Remove from heat and stir in dijon and sour cream.

Slice the steak into 1/2 inch pieces, then serve with sauce poured over. 

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