Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's Hanukkah Tonight!

Tonight was the second night of Hanukkah and we hosted a "little" potluck and party for my son's preschool class. Tomorrow night, we are doing the same for my daughter's first grade class. My chosen tasks were the latkes and the dessert. SURPRISE! So for the past few days, I have been baking. And crafting, when needed. Did I mention that I am not Jewish? And that my Catholic family will be heading to our house on the 23rd? I will dust myself off and get busy making some Christmas goodies. In the meantime, here are some of the goodies that we will be enjoying over the next couple of nights...

Sugar cookies! My very favorite recipe comes from Mrs. Fields.

The dessert buffet. I sort of went crazy. Why not?
The banner was made from supplies that I
procured at the Paper Source.

The above mentioned sugar cookies and some Chocolate Crackle Cookies
from MSL. They are a chocolate lover's dream.

Macaroons, drizzle pretzels and lots of blue candy!

Sufganiyot a.k.a. jelly donuts. These bad boys came from
Krispy Kreme. I might be crazy, but not THAT crazy.
But it still might be...

It was worth every dish that needed to be washed after I
destroyed my kitchen. Right, Honey?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Paper Source Obsession

Sometimes, what you decorate with can really enhance that your or serving. Or improve the overall appeal. Table settings and flowers are classic additions to any well dressed event. But there are many other ways to make a party special. This post has nothing to do with baking but I wanted to share this, anyway.

If you have never heard of Paper Source, you are missing out. For those of us who are in love with paper, this is Heaven. We have several locations in the Los Angeles area, but recently they opened one quite near my home. (DANGER!) They inspire me in so many ways. Recently, we had a fall festival at my daughter's school and I was the chair of the event. And in charge of decorations. We had a small budget so I decided to make several arrangements out of paper and using gourds and pumpkins, rather than fresh flowers. Each arrangement cost less than $10 to make. I also found some mini hay bales at the local craft store. I used them to make table numbers. With the help of some die cut turkeys and pumpkins from Paper Source, some large printer stickers, thin bamboo sticks, some raffia and a few stalks of wheat I was able to make a simple and festive marker.

I made 6 arrangements like this, each one had a different phrase.

This greeted our guests at the sign in table.

The table numbers.

Table sponsorship cards.

We had several families sponsor tables for the event. It was important to us to let their contributions be know. So I used some paper leaves and worked them into the tablescape. The overall effect was colorful and festive. I am so happy with the way everything came together.

Flower Arrangements

And speaking of tablescapes... there are a million + ways to snazz up a dinner party. Here are a few simple arrangements that I have used for recent events. All of these are easy to make, using season flowers that can be purchased at grocery stores or farmer's markets. One of my favorite things right now with the holidays is to mix mercury glass with a variety of small, simple arrangements. Keep the centerpieces low so that your guests can talk to the people across from them. And don't forget candles when entertaining at night!

This table was for an entertaining segment on The Talk. I worked with Rocco Dispirito to create this look, using a palate of pinks, whites, yellows and teal. The silver pieces really help make the table spectacular.

Mint julep cups are great flower vessels. I used 3 different flowers, all in white and placed them in vases next to one another. I also used silver chargers on the dining table and lots of flickering candles. Just make sure the candles are unscented. Nothing worse than having a smell that competes with the dinner you just slaved over.

This small arrangement is perfect for a small table or several could be used on a larger table.

Ornamental vegetables are another simple way to make the table feel fresh.

All of these arrangements were inspired by the pantry set on MasterChef. The veggies and florals were all inexpensive and were quite colorful. I used metal galvanized pots in varying shapes and sizes to unify the entire look.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A slice off the old butter block

There is no question, I am a bit of a control freak. Especially when it comes to pastry bags and decorating cakes and cookies. My kids are always begging me to use them and up until this point, I have been uptight about it. My six year old had a cupcake contest at her school last week. The cupcakes were to be designed by the kids. She had two ideas that she wanted to do. I asked her to draw out what she was thinking and I would help her execute them. She wanted a vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. For her first cupcake, she wanted a chalkboard, a teacher's desk and chair and an apple. Knowing that there is only so much room on the cupcake, I asked if it would be okay if we just did the chalkboard and the apple. Lofty ambitions! Where ever could she get that from?

For the second cupcake (why make only one?) she wanted a field of grass with a soccer ball and a flag that said the name of her school and the mascot. (Her school just won their league and was undefeated.) This is her design and what the cupcakes ended up looking like...

Ella piped the frosting all by herself!!! It turns out, she is actually quite good and takes her time. It is still hard for me to believe that a first grader can do this. But I was there and saw her do it! We made the apple out of a cake ball (one cupcake, crumbled, mixed with some frosting, rolled into a ball and then covered in red sanding sugar). Then she piped the leaf onto it and used a black jimmie as the stem. The chalkboard was constructed with black cardstock and we wrote the school's mantra in white. (The children say this each day at morning assembly, after the Pledge of Allegiance.) The soccer ball was a pick that I got at a local cake supply store. We made the flag, using the school's colors and attached the triangles to a skewer. Didn't she do a great job making the grass?

In reality, I probably could have gotten by without helping her at all on this task. But last year I let her "run with it" on her science fair project. And then we brought it to school and all of the other parents had clearly assisted their children and Ella's seemed to fade by comparison. In truth, I only helped her execute her ideas. And I let her have all creative control and decision making. And we had a bonding evening as we did it. (I found out who she has a crush on at school!!!)

This morning, they announced the first and second place winners of the competition. And Ella took the top prize!!!!! She pranced, proudly up on stage to accept her reward... a gift card to her favorite frozen yogurt place. This is the equivalent to me receiving a gift from Tiffany's. Guess I am going to have to capitalize on the talents that are before me. Maybe she can help me make that yule log that I had so much trouble with a few years back?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brown Butter Cookie Company

This weekend, my husband and I were able to do a little wine tasting at my very favorite winery. Sextant! While we were there I purchased a bottle of water and as I was doing so happened to noticed a bag of simply packaged, brown butter cookies for sale. It was too much for me to resist... I bought some. Within seconds of opening the crisp cellophane bag, I was blown away. Just the right combination of salty and sweet. Simple, but decadent. Needless to say, they did not last long. Now I am obsessing over them. And I wanted to share them with whoever might be into this sort of thing. Trust me, they are magnificent! I will be visiting their bakery, the first chance I get!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Milo turned 4!!!!!

And we threw him a little carnival themed birthday party. It was a ton of fun. We hosted his preschool class and their siblings. We served hot dogs, Grandpa Steve's world famous BBQ chicken legs, corn on the cob, watermelon and popcorn. We also had a treat room with cake pops, cotton candy, circus peanuts, animal crackers and 2 cupcake choices. After the kids were jacked up on sugar, they zipped back and forth between the bouncy, petting zoo, pony ride and a few carnival styled games in the back yard. It took me two days to recover. But it was worth every second. Here are a few photos from the event...

The invitations look a lot like this. I bought the pdf/jpeg from an artist on Etsy and then printed them myself. If you are interested, you may find them here... Vintage Carnival Printable from Lora Lang Designs.

I was so pleased with the invitation that I went back to Etsy and bought this package, also from Lora Lang Designs. DIY Printables Package

Milo and his adorable friend, Everette.

The cupcakes were both vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream (as per Milo). I used some of the printable files to make the cupcake wrappers and picks for the top cupcake. And I made the popcorn cupcake, using marshmallows that I pinched and twisted and placed on top of high mounds of frosting. The wrappers for those came from an Etsy artist, as well. Diane's Creative Touch DIY Popcorn Wrappers

The Sweet's Room

The other part of the room. I warned parents that if they saw their kids milling around the dining room, that chances were good that sugar was being consumed.

The favors. I bought the empty boxes from Oriental Trading Co. and got the idea for the ticket from another party that I researched online. The boxes were filled with small teddy bears, clown noses, twisty lollipops and circus tattoos.

The idea for the centerpieces was borrowed (stollen) from another carnival themed party that I found online. They were easy to do (hello, hot glue gun!) But took a little time to make. I got the plastic popcorn cups from Target. I think that they were $1 each.

Milo's big sister enjoying a popcorn cupcake. My Mom decorated the hats with some crepe paper ribbon that we found at a party store.

The clown cake pops. Because we have had a lot of events happening lately, I seem to be making a lot of cake pops. Last week, alone, I made over 300. (200 were for a school event). These were a lot of fun. But a word to the wise, never attempt to make cake pops on a warm day or in a warm kitchen. You might drive yourself crazy. The original idea came from Bakerella's Cake Pops Cookbook. My clown had candy orange slices for hair, they used Boston Baked Beans.

Our Castle Turned into a Circus Tent

We normally have a grey castle in our playroom. When I was planning the party, I thought... "Wouldn't it be cool if we could turn it into a Circus Tent and use it to adorn the backyard for Milo's birthday party?" I found some wide, satin ribbon at the floral supply store and commissioned my Mom (who is beyond talented) to sew together a top for the tent. It only took her an hour or so to create this masterpiece. At first, Milo was not thrilled by the fact that we changed his tent (even if it was only temporary.) I decided to turn it into a puppet theatre/circus tent to help "sell" the idea. Thankfully, he got into it. It has been nearly a week since we converted it and he hasn't asked us to remove the "costume".

My Mom is truly incredible. She used to make all of my prom dresses and formals when was in high school. And she made all of the bedding for our babies when they were born. Even though I have a BS in Home Economics, I cannot sew. I have always relied on my Mom to it for me. Once again, she knocked it out of the park. What would I do without her?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chocolate Zucchini Banana Mini Muffins

Recently, we found out that my daughter has outgrown her wheat allergy. Because of this, I have been looking for fun ways to celebrate. The doctor has advised her to eat small amounts, at first, building up as time goes on. Mini muffins are the perfect solution. I had a few things that I needed to use up, namely bananas and zucchini. After I little research and some tinkering, I came up with the following recipe. They are divine.

2 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch of cardamom
1/2 cup good quality cocoa (I prefer Valrhona)
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
1 cup grated zucchini, squeezed dry

Sift together dry ingredients and set aside. Whisk eggs, sugars, oil, sour cream, and vanilla till well blended. Stir in banana, and zucchini. Stir in dry ingredients just till moistened. Spoon into well greased or paper lined muffin tins. (Or if you have one, use a small scoop.) Bake at 325 for about 18 minutes.

-Makes about 5 1/2 dozen

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summertime Buzz

My husband is a comedy writer. He has lots of funny friends. This year, one of them gave him a gift for his birthday... a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker. It was a re-gift. Meant to get lots of laughs, upon opening. My husband was a bit stunned. I was happy. Bouncing up and down, happy. You see, we recently moved into a new home and somewhere in a box that has yet to be unpacked is an ice cream maker. Having a NEW ice cream maker caters to my lazy side AND makes it easy to whip up fabulous frozen treats for family and friends. Naturally, it did not take me long to figure out what my first creation would be... Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. (Made with Neilsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Paste... YUM!) It has been the perfect treat to have on hand for summer crumbles and afternoon affogatos, my all time favorite dessert.

I have also been using up unused summer fruits like peaches and raspberries. All and all, this device is helping me expand my waistline and forcing me to clock extra time at the gym. All of it, worthwhile.

Cannot wait to try new recipes...

Thinking about making this...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Month's Martha Stewart Living

The July 2011 cover.

Have you seen the July issue? I have to say that I think it is my favorite cover, ever. (And I like a lot of them!) Naturally, we were inspired to make our own versions of these fabulous sugar cookies. Both kids, ages 3 and 6, helped me with the marbling. Very easy and equally fabulous. The best part... they are delicious.

Ella, crafting a batch of sugar cookies... firework style!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mini Trifle Bowls

I have fallen in love! With this new mini trifle bowl. I first saw them when I was shopping for MasterChef and I thought about them so much that I had to go buy myself a bunch of them. Trifles are desserts that are easy to compose and sure to knock your guest's socks off. (Plus, they are a GREAT way to use up a cake that might have cracked and would otherwise be unsuable.) They are three dollars each. If you are interested in getting them, they can be found at Pier One Imports or follow this link...

They would also be a fabulous container for yogurt and granola parfaits. Not a bad thing to invest in, as the spring and summer months approach!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Magnolia? Joan's? Magnolia? Joan's?

In case you are wondering, I am a fiend. A bakery obsessed, menace to the blogosphere. I have a job that forces me to traverse the city as I hunt for the "perfect" item to use on one of my sets. As it happens, I am currently decorating a cooking show for Fox. One of our sets is a Whole Foods styled "shoppe". It is a fun environment to dress but I have been having a bit of a block on a few finishing touches. Naturally, I need to do lots of research in high-end bakeries. (A girl's work is never done). So I hopped into my minivan and headed straight to West Hollywood's Third Street. Home of Joan's on Third and now, Magnolia Bakery's west coast outpost. Both are on the same block. Both have their own alluring, caloric temptations. Joan's is foodie's dream. Many types of cuisine, cooked perfectly, albeit quite expensive. AND they have one of the most fabulous bakeries and cappucino bars in town. If you cannot find something to eat here, I am worried about you.

Last year, the long awaited Magnolia Bakery opened across the street. If you have ever been to the original NYC location you would almost not believe that the two stores are related. One is a quaint little bakery, while the other is a mammoth cupcacke producing factory. But the cupcakes and the puddings are enough to send you to the moon (in a good way). Worth every single gut-expanding, calorie. My favorites are the caramel cupcake and the banana pudding.

As far as Joan's is concerned, I am moderately addicted to their meringue cookies. Particularly the ones with the chocolate and coconut. And in the summer, I have been known to consume a cream puff... or two.

Whenever I turn onto Third Street, I turn into a junkie. Am I hungry? Do I have time to stop? Where should I go? One day, I even followed Jeff Goldbloom and his girlfriend as they held hands, walking down the street. Would they stop at Joan's? Maybe get a little omelet and a croissant? Nope. Well they must be going to Magnolia? Who can refuse their tasty brownies?Nope. They were just walking. And I realized that maybe, I should consider a 12 step program. Especially because I seem to project my desires onto complete strangers who also happen to be celebrities.

In any case, if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to chose between the two I think that I would have to go with Joan's. But I am happy to have to luxury of being able to have two options. Because there are times for cream puffs and there are times for good old fashioned vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting!

And if you also like things that are sweet on the eyes, I hear that Alexander SkarsgÄrd has been known to frequent Joan's from time to time.