Esther 4:14b

"...and who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this."


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cake


Today we celebrated two birthdays at work so I made a cake that was a little extra special. I'm loving how I went with Bundt cakes this year because it gives me more time to be creative in the decorating department. Although, I'm still cheating and using boxed cake mix and frosting just for conviencence sake.

Ingredients:
1 box strawberry cake mix (and items to bake cake according to box)
1 can cream cheese frosting
red food coloring
strawberries
semi-sweet chocolate chips

Bake cake according to box directions. Allow to cool. Heat 2/3 can of cream cheese frosting in microwave until it will easily pour to cover the cake. Pour all but about 1/4 cup over cake. To 1/4 cup of frosting, add red food coloring until it's the desired color. Stir and drizzle on top of other frosting. Melt semi-sweet chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl on high 1 minute. Remove and stir and heat again at 15 second intervals if necessary. Dip strawberries in chocolate. Allow to cool. Once strawberries are cool, place them in the middle and around the sides of your cake. Enjoy!

This was a big hit with all the guys at work today and would be a perfect cake for Valentine's Day too (I had it in my head since then, but was a little hard to make in the Cook Islands!).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Hubby & I returned home late last night. It'll take me a few days to recoup from the jet lag and catch up on the mounds of work I have waiting for me on my desk. And, I no doubt have a ton of blog posts by ya'll to catch up on too.

Please be patient with me as I get back into the swing of things. I'll try to post photos from our trip soon.

Did anyone make any of the recipes I had post while I was away? If so, please tell me what you thought of them.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Homemade Guacamole & Smoked Salmon Appetizer


Every time I make my guacamole it's slightly different. Here's what I normally try to do:

GUACAMOLE

2-3 gloves crushed garlic (through a garlic press)
1/2 small red onion, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
3 haas avocados, cubed
juice of 1 lime
salt, to taste

Mix all the above ingredients together in a bowl, mashing the avocados, until it reaches your desired consistency. Serve with chips.
NOTE: Guacamole is normally not lime green like above photo shows. Again, the camera. Hopefully it takes decent pictures for us in the Cooks! Guess we'll find out when I go to download them in a few days.

I also like these little appetizer bites:

SMOKED SALMON WITH CHEESE & CRACKERS

Smoked nova salmon
cream cheese
Ritz crackers
fresh dill

Spread cream cheese on cracker. Place thin slice of smoked salmon on top of cheese. Top with a bit of fresh dill.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Filling & Chocolate Ganache

CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH PEANUT BUTTER FILLING & CHOCOLATE GANACHE
Serves 12

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking powder
2 t. baking soda
¾ c. unsweetened cocoa
2 c. sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
1 c. hot coffee
1 c. milk
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla

Peanut Butter Filling:
4 T. unsalted butter, softened
½ c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. powder sugar, sifted
1-4 T. milk

Chocolate Ganache:
10 oz. semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup half-and-half
1 T corn syrup (give it the sheen)

For cake: Sift together dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add oil, coffee and milk; mix at medium speed for 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 2 more minutes (batter will be thin). Pour into two greased and floured 9” round cake pans. Bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes. Cool cakes 15 minutes before removing from pan. For filling: In medium bowl, with mixer on medium, beat butter and peanut butter until well blended. Add sugar and beat until combined. Gradually add milk and beat until filling reaches desired consistency (may need slightly more or slightly less milk depending on your preference). For ganache: Place chocolate chips in microwave safe bowl. Add half-and-half and microwave on high for 1 minute. Remove from microwave and stir until chocolate chips are melted. Stir in corn syrup for sheen.

To assemble: Place one cooled cake on serving platter. Spread filling on top of layer. Place other layer on top of filling. Pour chocolate ganache on top of cake and let drizzle over sides.

Store leftover cake in refrigerator.

NOTE: Pardon the photo. I'm not happy with the way my flash is washing everything out lately. And, I didn't have time to let this cake cool completely before assembling it so it's a little sloppy. But, we all thought it was very delicious!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

White Pizza with Mushrooms


Every weekend hubby and I make pizza together. We cheat and buy the pizza dough from my favorite grocery store. Sorry, but $2.19 is well worth it to me to save the time of kneading and letting dough rise. The package says it only makes one pie, but hubby cuts it in half and then tosses them in the air until we get two beautiful crusts...one for a medium size pie and another for a large.

Some weeks we do red sauce, others it's white. There really is no special recipe, but there are two very necessary ingredients/pieces of equipment. The first is a pizza STONE (not pizza pan) and the second is PAMPERED CHEF Italian Seasoning mix (no other Italian seasoning mixes come close to tasting as good).

This week we made:

WHITE PIZZA WITH MUSHROOMS

1 large pizza dough ball at room temperature
1 T. Pampered Chef Italian Seasoning
3 T. olive oil (eyeball it)
1-2 cups sliced baby bella mushrooms
Ricotta cheese
Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 F. Place pizza stones in oven while you split dough into two crusts and stretch them to the size needed. Remove warm stones from oven. Place dough on stones. Pierce dough with fork all over. Return dough to oven and bake for about 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye that it doesn't burn. Remove crusts from oven. Spread crusts with a thin layer of ricotta cheese. Mix olive oil & Italian seasoning and drizzle over ricotta. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top (I usually buy a big block at Sam's and split it into 5 squares). Put mushrooms on top of cheese. Return pies to oven and bake until cheese turns bubbly and starts to brown, about 10 minutes.

No matter who we have over for pizza night, our pies always get rave reviews.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Pistachio Cake



My mother-in-law made this cake. I don't have her recipe with me, but here is a very similar one that my mom uses.


PISTACHIO CAKE
12-15 Servings

1 pkg. (18-1/4 oz.) white cake mix
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.) instant pistachio pudding mix
1 c. lemon-lime soda
1 c. vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 c. chopped walnuts

In bowl combine the first five ingredients. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes; stir in walnuts. Pour into a greased bundt pan. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day

Any special plans for today? I don't know what we'll be doing seeing how I'm writing this a little more than a week before the 14th, but I hope it involves something like a candlelight dinner, stroll on the beach, and a professional massage.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ham & Cheese Brunch Squares


HAM & CHEESE BRUNCH SQUARES

2 cups Colby & Monterey Jack cheese blend, shredded, divided
1 pkg (22.5 oz) frozen toaster hash brown patties, thawed (10 patties)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
12 eggs
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
8 oz thickly sliced deli ham
4-5 green onions with tops, divided (about 1 cup sliced)
3 plum tomatoes
Additional coarsely ground black pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 450°F. Lightly brush large jelly roll pan with vegetable oil. Crumble hash browns over pan; press gently into an even layer. Sprinkle half of the cheese evenly over hash browns. Bake 13-15 minutes or until crust starts to brown and cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, in large bowl, whisk cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add eggs and black pepper; whisk until smooth. Coarsely chop ham. Slice green onions, reserving 1/4 cup of the tops for garnish. Place ham and remaining green onions into 8-in. sauté pan; cook and stir over medium heat 2-3 minutes or until hot. Stir ham mixture into egg mixture.

Remove pan from oven. Pour egg mixture over crust. Return pan to oven; bake 6-8 minutes or until center is set. Meanwhile, slice tomatoes in half lengthwise; scrape out seeds and dice.

Remove pan from oven; top with remaining cheese, tomatoes and reserved green onions. Sprinkle with additional black pepper, if desired. Cut into squares and serve.

Yield: 12 servings (generous sized)

NOTE: This is a Pampered Chef recipe. If you have the large stoneware bar pan, it's perfect for making this dish. Also, the first time I made it I used the hashbrown patties that look like the kind you get at McDonald's this is what the recipe calls for. This time I couldn't find those so I used shredded hashbrowns and it didn't work as well. Tater tots might work in a pinch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Blueberry French Toast Casserole


My husband has been wanting this dish ever since the first time Jen made it for him when he was visiting his cousin (her husband) a few years ago. The recipe is originally made with strawberries and strawberry jam, but we used blueberries because those were Gram's favorite and it was for her birthday after all! I'm sure any berry/jam mixture would work. Although, my husband did say he prefers the strawberry version after having tasted both.

MAKE-AHEAD FRENCH TOAST WITH BLUEBERRY SAUCE
(from May 2002 issue of Southern Living)

1 (16 ounce) challah bread loaf, cubed*
1 (8 ounce) pkg. cream cheese, cut into pieces
6 large eggs
4 cups half and half
1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 (10 ounce) jar blueberry preserves

Arrange half of challah bread in a lightly greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Sprinkle with cheese pieces, and top with remaining bread. Whisk together eggs and next 3 ingredients; pour over bread mixture, pressing bread cubes to absorb egg mixture.

Cover and chill 8 hours.

Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake 20 more minutes.

Heat blueberries and blueberry preserves in a saucepan over low heat, and serve over toast.

Prep: 25 min., chill: 8 hrs., Bake 45 min.

*French bread may be substituted (but it's not nearly as good!)

To lighten: Substitute 1 (8 ounce) pkg. Neufchatel cheese for cream cheese, 1 1/2 cups egg substitute for eggs, and 4 cups fat-free milk for half and half.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tune in tomorrow

Just a reminder to watch Martha Stewart tomorrow if you want to see a giant crane land on top of a lady's head! Or to catch my mom and me in the studio audience. Check your local listings for the time.

First person to leave the correct answer telling me what either my mom or I was wearing will win a PRIZE upon my return.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Best Brownies EVER!


Thank you to the mom of one of my best friends growing up for this recipe. They were a big hit with everyone and just as yummy as I remember! Next time I'm going to try making them without the chocolate chips and swirling in cream cheese instead. The only comment my hubby had besides delicious was a little less powdered sugar on top next time. Hope you all enjoy them as much as I do!

THE BEST BROWNIES EVER
(that's the name I've given them)

DO NOT USE BEATERS. STIR THIS WITH ONLY A FORK OR SPOON.

3/4 cup baking cocoa
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick butter, melted (salted or unsalted)
1/2 cup boiling water (I just microwaved it for about a minute)
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
2 heaping cups of chocolate semisweet chips

In a large bowl, combine the cocoa and baking soda, blend in 1/2 of the melted butter. Add boiling water, stir until well blended. Stir in sugar, eggs and remaining butter. Add flour, vanilla and salt. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into a greased 13-in.x 9-in x 2-in baking pan. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of pan.Cool then sprinkle powder sugar on top.

And then my favorite part: Eat until your heart's content or your belly hurts...whatever comes first!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane


Today hubby and I are jetting off to our honeymoon. What? You didn't take your honeymoon a year and a half after you were married?

We're heading as far as Los Angeles today (6 hour flight time total) with a layover in Denver. We're staying in Redondo Beach for the night and giving hubby his first taste of California (for some reason I always hear that word in my head the way the "Governator" says it on the commercial) before we hop on our plane to the Cook Islands tomorrow night at some ridiculously late hour for a 10 hour plane ride to Rarotonga.

The first 9 days or so we're staying in our own little house right on the beach in Rarotonga where we'll enjoy some hiking, snorkling, boating, biking, reading, relaxing and all those other fun things you do on your honeymoon (what? we're still newylweds!) before we hop a plane over to the island of Aitutaki for 5 more nights in an overwater bungalow and another little beach house.

We're bringing no computers or cellphones, so all contact with the outside world will have to wait until I return on the 24th, but I promise to post pictures.

Paradise, here we come!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Veggie Patch "Pizza"

VEGGIE PATCH PIZZA

2 pkg. crescent rolls
2 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 envelope Ranch dressing
1 c. mayo
¾ c. scallions
¾ c chopped green pepper
¾ c. chopped carrots
¾ c. chopped broccoli
¾ c. chopped cauliflower
¾ c. chopped black olives
¾ c. cheddar cheese

Bake rolls as crust on large cookie sheet. Cool. Mix dressing with mayo and cream cheese. Spread on crust. Press veggies into mixture. Cover. Let sit overnight. Put on cheese when ready to serve.

NOTE: I don't particularly care for raw veggies, but I love this "pizza". This recipe makes enough to feed 12 comfortably.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Birthday Gifts

I'm a little late in posting this, but both sets of parents gave me some awesome gifts for my birthday this year so I just wanted to share.

Hubby's mom is still in a walking cast and not getting around too much, so she gave me her Macy's card and a limit on what I could spend and let me pick out what I wanted. I got an awesome pair of Sketchers that will be great for travelling to the Cooks. They're light weight, slip on and won't take a lot of space in my suitcase. I've been wanting a pair of shoes like this for a long time so I was very excited to find that they were on sale and between that and the coupon I had for $10 off, they met the limit of what I could spend exactly!

My parents sent me this beautiful white "jacket". It's got the puffy vest like look with ribbed knit sleeves. It's very warm and very cute.

They also sent me another box that had a label on it that said chocolates. I didn't even want to open the box because I knew I'd be tempted to eat them all before I left for the honeymoon which would not have been good. But, when I spoke with my mom later in the day and thanked her for the jacket, she asked if I liked the other gift as well. I told her it was a mean trick to play on me right before I had to wear a swimsuit. That's when she informed me the box didn't actually hold chocolates. Silly me! So, I rushed home to open it and received a wonderful surprise...a Martha Stewart craft punch and three glitters! Perfect for this craft and Martha Stewart addicted girl!

Thanks Mom & Dad (both sets) for such wonderful gifts!



Wednesday, February 4, 2009

My Weekend of Indulgence

Alright, so celebrating three birthdays the weekend before you leave for your honeymoon where you'll be wearing a bikini for two weeks may not have been the best idea, but the food sure was good while it lasted!

Over the next week or so I'll have posts on some of the different recipes that were included in the celebration of hubby's grandma's 90th, our cousin-in-law Jen and my birthdays, as well as Superbowl Sunday. Here are the menus:

GRANDMA'S BIRTHDAY BRUNCH
Veggie Patch Pizza
Blueberry French Toast Casserole
Ham & Cheese Brunch Squares
Fruit Salad (no recipe for this...just chop and mix a bunch of your favorite fruits together)
Pistachio Cake

BIRTHDAY DINNER FOR ME & JEN
White Pizza with Mushrooms
Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Filling & Chocolate Ganache

SUPERBOWL SUNDAY/MY birthDAY
Homemade Guacamole & Chips
Smoked Salmon with Cheese & Crackers
Leftover Veggie Pizza
Leftover Chocolate Cake

Yeah, I don't even want to know how many calories I consumed in those two days, but it sure was yummy! And for those family members who were giving me a hard time about making everything on this list myself besides the French Toast Casserole (thanks, Jen!) and the Pistachio Cake (thanks, mom-in-law!), my philosophy is that if there's gonna be leftovers and it's for my birthday, if I make it myself, I know I'll like it!

Oh, and the above menus don't include the delicious homemade brownies I made on Friday night. The mom of one of my friends who I've known since elementary school makes the best brownies and I've always wanted her recipe. Well, I finally got it this past week so of course I had to make them. They were just as yummy as I remembered from all those years ago and I'll never make brownies from a box again.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today I'm an old lady. Alright so 28 isn't that old, but still.

I just praise God because every day and every year is better than the one before. I've loved every moment He's given me and I'll enjoy every more minute I'm blessed with.

We're celebrating by watching the big game...Go Cardinals!

Hopefully there'll be some cake and ice cream involved too :)

Also, I forgot to post the first birthday from work this year, but I've declared 2009 the year of the Bundt cake because as I told the guys from work, "Cupcakes are so 2008". A bundt cake is 10 times faster than making cupcakes and I'm all about shortcuts! Plus, they look so pretty. The first one was a yellow cake with chocolate icing that I heated in the microwave so it drizzled nicely over the cake and then I covered it in multi colored round sprinkles. It looked like a giant chocolate covered donut and it was delicious!

And now for some personal humiliation - some photos of me through the years:

video

A few thoughts I had while watching this: Boy, was I tan in 2nd grade! I miss my naturally straight hair...don't get perms your hair is never the same! I sure had some ugly and fat years in there! I sure am glad I learned how to pluck my eyebrows...no more furry catepillars sititng above my eyes!

Isn't it fun looking at photos of yourself and seeing how you've changed?