Thursday, March 31, 2011

A spring dinner party

{Photo credits: Martha Stewart, Pottery Barn, The Kitchn}

Technically it's spring but in MN is still very much feels like winter. The temps are slowly creeping up, but we still have plenty of snow on the ground.  This winter has been long as hell and I am over it.

I am hosting a dinner party on Friday evening and I'm calling it a spring dinner party.  Because it is basically still winter, it's not really a spring dinner party but I suppose it was inspired by the longing for spring.  When I think of spring, I picture myself strolling through the farmer's market.  I can't wait to begin cooking with fresh, local ingredients. Until then, it's to the grocery store I go.

Here is the menu I have planned:

Appetizers
Caprese skewers (cherry tomato, mozzarella and basil on a toothpick with olive oil and balsamic vinegar)
Chive and goat cheese puff pastry wafers
Blue cheese/crackers/pears

Dinner
Spring salad with tangy vinaigrette
Fettucini with peas, asparagus and pancetta

Dessert (TBD)
Strawberry shortcake (store-bought)
or
Buttermilk pudding cakes
or
Strawberry shortcake cookies

What are your favorite spring-inspired recipes?  Please comment and share!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Recipe round-up: quinoa

{Photo credits: Martha Stewart}

A recent Whole Foods cooking class has created my new-found love of quinoa.  Also, I'm sort of ashamed to admit that Weight Watchers has taken a back seat and I've been on a eat-everything-I-see-including-Cheetos-and-all-fried-foods diet the past couple weeks (have I ever mentioned that I actually LOVE junk food?  Especially Cheetos.  Uh).

I don't know why but I tend to do that; Weight Watchers religiously for 2 months than binge eat for a few weeks.  So I'm hoping that focusing on quinoa may help me get back on the healthy-eating train.

Plus, let's get real...it's approaching Spring in MN and there will be no more hiding behind bulky sweaters and winter jackets!

Recipes:

Fennel and quinoa salad with parsley and dill 
Quinoa and turkey patties in pita with tahini sauce 
Quinoa spinach bake
Greek style quinoa burgers 
Quinoa and apple salad with curry dressing
Stuffed poblano peppers in a chipotle sauce

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Quinoa corn chowder

I attended another Whole Foods cooking class yesterday, this one was called "Cooking with Quinoa".  I don't have a lot of experience with quinoa other than I've eaten it a few times at restaurants and it's delicious. I had never cooked with it until yesterday. In case you don't know, quinoa is a whole grain with a lot of protein, iron and fiber. Plus, it's gluten-free and super easy to make.

My favorite dish of the class was this quinoa corn chowder. It was not as creamy as you may expect, it's very thick, even thicker than a stew. It's hardy and delicious. My favorite part was the tempeh "bacon", which gave the soup a smoky flavor (you can find this at Whole Foods for about $3.50).

Quinoa corn chowder (recipe by Ani Loizzo of Whole Foods)

Ingredients

1 cup dry quinoa, rinsed
2 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
4 ears worth of corn kernels, or 2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
4 cups vegetable broth
6 slices tempeh "bacon" chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalepeno, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika

Preparation

Heat olive oil in a medium sized pot. Saute "bacon" until crisp, set aside. Add onion and red pepper and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, jalepeno and potatoes, saute 5 more minutes. Add paprika, broth and quinoa and bring to a simmer. Simmer 10 minutes, add corn and simmer 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with green onions and reserved "bacon".

Serves 4 as a meal, 8 as a side dish.

This recipe is gluten-free and vegan.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Champagne cupcakes and a blessingway

Have you ever heard of a blessingway? I hadn't either and then was invited to one a few weeks ago for my friend Natasha. Natasha's good friends LeAnn and Angie hosted the blessingway and it was an incredible event to be a part of.

By definition, a blessingway is a women-centered ceremony emphasizing a women's strength, dignity and her metamorphisis as she goes through the process of bringing new life into the world.

A blessingway is nothing like a baby shower. Instead of focusing on the soon-to-come baby, you focus on the mother-to-be. All the guests were asked to bring a bead or a charm and include a note that reminds Natasha what the meaning of the bead is. The beads are then made into a bracelet which Natasha will wear when she gives birth (which could be any day now!).

The champagne cupcakes were made for the blessingway. I know Natasha likes champagne, but obviously hasn't been able to enjoy it for the past 9 months. The cupcakes give the slightest hint of champagne flavor, as it is both in the cake and in the frosting. Don't worry, all the alchohol is cooked out of the champagne.  I loved how moist the cake is and how light and fluffy and champagne buttercream is.  These are a must-try!

The blessingway had a springtime theme and had lovely paper and real flowers everywhere.  The baby bump above is a mold of Natasha at 8 months. 
My cupcakes in action.  I was thrilled that the mom-to-be loved them.
Delicious goat cheese and tomato baguettes.


LeAnn and Angie (the hosts) thought of everything, including photos of Natasha's mom and sister, who live in Russia and were unable to attend the blessingway.  They also asked Natasha's mom and sister to write letters to Natasha, which were read out-loud during the event.  Things got a bit emotional, to say the least.   
As you can see, Natasha is a beautiful pregnant woman.  Her belly is adorable!  Part of the blessingway included pampering the mom-to-be. 
I couldn't resist snapping a couple maternity photos as the lighting was lovely (as well as Natasha, obviously).

Champagne cupcakes (recipe adapted from Sprinkles Bakes blog)

Cake:

1/2 cup butter softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup champagne, prosecco or your choice of sparkling wine (I used Prosecco)

Frosting:

1 cup plus 1 tbsp. champagne or prosecco
2 sticks of butter softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and mix. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt, set aside. in a medium sized bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup champagne and 1/2 cup sour cream (mixture will fizz and bubble a little). Add flour and champagne mixture alternately, beginning and ending with flour. Batter will be thick.

Fill cupcake papers with 1/4 cup level measures of batter. Bake for 17-22 minutes. Set aside.

To make the frosting, Place 1 cup of champagne in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Transfer to a small bowl or condiment cup and allow to cool.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, cream softened butter and powdered sugar together. Once the frosting is thick and fluffy, pour in the reduced 2 tbsp. champagne plus 1 tbsp. champagne from the bottle and mix well.

To embellish I used blue cupcake liners (Natasha is expecting a boy) and added white nonpareils.  Pretty!

I hope you all have a happy Monday!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pantry party: shrimp and artichoke pasta

About once a month I freak out about how much money my husband and I spend at the grocery store and declare a pantry party. The phrase "pantry party" is actually pretty ridiculous because 1) I do not have a pantry and 2) it's not really a party.

A pantry party is a meal that must be made entirely with the ingredients you have in your pantry (or cabinets/fridge/freezer). I have no idea where the phrase pantry party came from, so I can't claim it as my own.

Depending on the day, some pantry parties are more successful than others. This shrimp and artichoke pasta happened to be one of the more successful dishes. Pantry party meals are great for creativity and saving money.

Shrimp and artichoke pasta

Ingredients

1/2 box whole wheat spaghetti noodles
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons olive tapenade
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
4-6 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1 can red kidney beans, drained
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can 14 oz diced tomatoes
20-30 large cooked shrimp

Preparation

Cook spaghetti noodles until al dente. Drain and set aside. In a large skillet on medium to high heat, add the olive oil. Add garlic and cook for about a minute. Add in the artichokes, diced tomatoes (with all the juices) and olive tapenade. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes.

Turn heat down to low, add the beans and heavy cream. Add the spaghetti noodles and toss to coat. Add the shrimp and toss to incorporate.

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon parmesan on top of each serving. I think feta would be awesome on this pasta, as well.

Of course, the beautiful thing about this recipe is that many of the ingredients (such as artichokes, beans, etc) can be substituted for whatever you have.

Does your household have the equivalent to a pantry party? What are your money-saving tips when it comes to making meals and/or grocery shopping?  Please comment and share!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brunch-time dessert table

I'm sorry for the missing posts this week. I was so excited for a full week of lovely posts (including a champagne cupcake recipe!) but then a few things got in the way....like a HUGE client presentation in Florida and a computer virus that greeted me when I returned. The hubs is working on the virus so hopefully we'll be back up and running shortly. All my photos and pretty much, well, my life is on that laptop and let's just say I haven't gotten around to backing up the files yet. Oops. Fingers crossed.

Back to today's loveliness. The ladies at Spaceships and Laser Beams have created yet another adorable table, this time it was a brunch table, wtih their new Snakes and Snails birthday collection.

As told by Stephanie:

"We only sell boys supplies and I get so many comments about people not thinking that boys parties can be as beautiful as girls parties. We wanted to do something to show that this isn't the case. In addition, the Snakes and Snails theme is for the younger set. We thought it would be show how you could have a sweets table for the brunch-time party first birthday party. Typically, there are more adults than kids at first birthdays so we thought it would be a great option. The birthday details could also be easily swapped out for a baby shower."













Credits:

Snakes and Snail printable design - Jodene Condotta
Photography - Mike Barrand
Table design - Stephanie Keeping
Cinnamon Buns  - Goodness Bakeshop

About Spaceships and Laser Beams:

- We only do collections for boys - or "non-frilly" girls: we're a no princess zone
- All of our illustrations are 100% original and drawn by hand, they won't be found anywhere else
- All of our collections are created by professional graphic designers, we are people who have work in the corporate world but have been itching to release our inner child
- Items in the Snakes and Snails Collection can be bought individually or as part of a party value pack
- Because we believe that happy childhoods are about making every day feel special, 5% of all sales goes to the YMCA Strong Kids campaign -- to help young boys grow in to strong young men
- You can visit us at our Etsy shop or follow us on Facebook or on Twitter. We also have a blog.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Real wedding: Kristin and Tim, September 2010

Last fall my two best friends and my sister got married. I was the matron of honor in Kristin's wedding and a bridesmaid in the other two. It was an amazing, but whirlwind of a fall, to say the least.

Kristin and Tim's wedding took place on September 11, 2010. They couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day with a sunny, cloudless sky, 70 degrees...just gorgeous. The entire day was filled with a sense of calm...the morning was not rushed, as they often are. We drank mimosas, relaxed and hung out with the bridal party.

The ceremony was perfectly timed and lovely. The reception was a blast. Of course, because I was the MOH I gave a speech and was somewhat of a nervous wreck (even a few glasses of wine didn't calm my nerves). Luckily, it went well.  After the best man and I were finished with our speeches we ran to the bar and took a shot of tequila. That's when the party got started (for me at least).

Kristin's vision for her wedding day was a blend of traditional and modern with a red and Tiffany blue color scheme.  Click here to view Kristin's inspiration board.

Photo credits to Gruman Photography.
Kristin wore a beautiful lace dress with cap sleeves and a low back. 
Kristin rocked cute, red shoes.  This clutch has now been used in three weddings, my sister, Kristin's and mine.  Kristin found this clutch at Target a few years ago for only $10.

Kristin had a pretty ivory sash tied around her lace dress. 




We made simple ceremony decor using baby's breath, ribbon and mason jars.






I love the texture and colors in Kristin's bouquet.






We stopped and took photos at Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis.  Kristin and Tim snuck some photos on an ice cream truck. This has really got me dreaming of summer.












Be sure to check out this wedding highlight video.  I think it perfectly captures Kristin and Tim's day and you really get a sense of how fun and goofy of a couple they are.  Check out the dance moves toward the end.

Kristin + Tim from Life's Highlights on Vimeo.

Kristin married a great guy and was a gorgeous, happy bride. She had exactly the kind of day you wish your best friend will have on her wedding and I was honored to be a part of it.

Vendor credits:

Photography: Gruman Photography
Florist: A Day in Provence
Cake: Buttercream
Bridal gown and bridesmaid dresses: The Wedding Shoppe
Reception venue: Minnesota History Center
Videography: Life's Highlights

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mixed berry Irish scones

Happy St. Patrick's Day! I have a tasty recipe to share you with today that comes all the way from Ireland! Emily of blog From China Village and from Dublin, reached out to collaborate on a post in honor of today.

Caveat, I don't have much experience making scones. I've only made them once or twice before. Scones can be tricky because (as Emily warned) if you work the dough too much the scones may become a bit too dense. Despite the warning, I overworked the dough, damn, and I also think I removed them from the oven a bit too soon in fear of them becoming too hard. The scones themselves taste really great, but I missed the mark on the texture for sure. 

As told by Emily:

"The scone recipe is not a green recipe, and there's no Guinness involved, but it's probably one of the most truly Irish recipes I've found - as in real Irish people really make and love to eat them!

Before I moved to Ireland a few years ago, I was not a fan of scones at all. I found them hard and bland and they always reminded me of hockey pucks. But true Irish scones are light and fluffy, best served warm out of the oven. The standard scones over here have raisins, but most coffee shops or cafes have this yummy "Mixed Berry" version. This recipe is adapted from the famous Avoca Cafe - the coziest place to get lunch or tea and a scone in Dublin.

I often munch on these scones plain for an afternoon snack, but they make an absolutely decadent dessert if you serve them with runny, oozy jam and fresh whipped cream. The scones themselves aren't too sweet, so they're perfect when the jam soaks in a little. The top is crispy, but the inside is flaky and soft. Enjoy with a hot cup of tea - the perfect afternoon treat to celebrate St. Patrick's Day!

Mixed Berry Irish Scones (adapted from Avoca Cafe )

Ingredients

4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup caster sugar (caster sugar is just fine sugar. You can grind granulated sugar in a food processor or coffee grinder. Kind of in between granulated and confectioner's sugar.)
1 stick cold butter, diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
50 mls heavy cream
200 mls whole milk
1 and 1/2 - 2 cups mixed berries (cranberries, blackberries, blueberries and/or strawberries - my mix has redcurrants and blackcurrants but those will probably be less common in America)

1 egg plus 2 tbsp water, lightly beaten for egg wash
1/4 cup caster sugar for dusting

Preparation

Sift the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add the cold butter and work together with your fingers until it turns to the consistency of bread crumbs. Add in the mixed berries and toss to incorporate. Add in the egg, cream and enough milk to moisten. Work together with your hands until you have a soft dough - don't work too long or you'll end up with hockey pucks! Roll out on a floured surface until it's about 2 inches thick (2 inches should give you tall, fluffy scones). Use a round cookie cutter (scones are only round over here!) to cut out the scones and transfer to a greased or lined cookie sheet. Brush them with the egg wash and sprinkle generously with caster sugar, which will give them a crunchy top!

Bake at 350 F for about 25 minutes, until they're golden brown on the top.

Oozy Jam

1/2 cup of your favorite jam, the chunkier the better
2 tbsp apple juice
In a saucepan, heat the jam and apple juice over low heat until it thins.

Cut the warm scones in half (of course, you can zap them in the microwave for 30 seconds if they've cooled or you're eating them a day or two later!), spoon a generous amount of jam sauce onto each half and drop a dollop of fresh cream (just barely sweetened) onto each half. And don't forget that cup of tea - not authentically Irish without the tea!"

I also whipped up some cream using 1/2 cup of heaving whipping cream, 1 teaspoon sugar and a splash of vanilla.

I would love to give these a try again when berries are fresh from the Farmer's Market, especially beautiful currants.  Thanks so much to Emily for the scone recipe and have a wonderful St. Patrick's Day!

For Japan With Love

A couple amazing bloggers created the "For Japan with Love" disaster relief which includes a blogger's day of silence, which I will be observing tomorrow.  Read more about it here and please donate!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A cozy winter love shoot: Laura and Mike, March 2011

I am incredibly in love with today's post. Remember the awesome giveaway I hosted a couple weeks ago that involved a Canary Grey love shoot session to one lucky winner? Well, I couldn't have chosen a more deserving, adorable winner than Laura. She was over-the-moon excited to have won the giveaway and it is every blogger's dream to see a project like this from start to finish.

Wing of Canary Grey Photography and Laura connected right away and excitedly planned a cozy winter love shoot for the upcoming weekend. They wasted no time at all! Their vision was an outdoor, snowy shoot with a bonfire and a touch of chic (in the form of that cool, orange chair). Then they headed indoors to warm up with some coffee at their favorite spot.

Every last detail about this shoot is completely lovely. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I think you will, too. (I'm totally aware of the over-use of the word "love" in this post, but it is too perfect and I can't help it!)

Photo credits to Canary Grey Photography.























Laura and Mike, could you two be any cuter???

Thanks to Laura and Wing for letting me share this gorgeous shoot!