Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Topsy-Turvy Birthday Cake

Well, I sold my first cake, and it was just as stressful as I expected it to be.  I just kept expecting it to fall apart at any second.  I even considered making a back-up batch of cupcakes to bring in case the cake got ruined in transit.  Luckily, it made the 45 minute trip across Kansas City, and I only had to fix one little thing when we got there.  Since it was for a surprise party, my co-worker met me at his neighbor's house and we stored the cake in their fridge until my co-worker was ready to bring it to his house later.  I'm assuming that it made the trip down the sidewalk ok, but I probably won't know for sure until Monday.

Earlier this week, we decided on a 2 tier "topsy-turvy" cake, with chocolate icing and yellow stripes on the bottom, and white icing and brown polka dots on the top.  I know the colors sound a little iffy together, but he said that chocolate is his wife's favorite cake and icing flavor, and yellow is her favorite color, so that's what he wanted.  I was hoping to put the number 40 on top, but I knew that it wasn't going to stand up on its own, so on the side it went.  I'm pretty happy with how the whole thing turned out, I just wish the "Happy Birthday" part and the 40 had been better.

The process started on Wednesday with making the fondant for the accents.  Then on Thursday I baked the cakes; 3 layers of 8" cake and 3 layers of 12".  Friday night I stacked the layers to make the tiers and did the crumb coat on them.  Finally on Saturday, I put the final icing coats, stacked the tiers and added all the decoration.  We got a few pictures along the way so here they are!

I carved out a flat spot for the top tier to sit so that it only looks like it's sitting at an angle :)
See, now it looks all slanty.  This is why it constantly made me nervous.  Even though I knew it was sitting flat.
My fondant work station.  A non-stick mat is very helpful.
Putting on some stripes.
You can see the wires in the numbers.  I think I'd have to use gumpaste to make them hard enough to stand up on their own.
All done!  I could use some practice with icing writing.   
I just hope the birthday girl liked the cake.  My co-worker seemed to really like it when I dropped it off, so I hope he wasn't just trying to be nice :)  I've got a bunch of icing left over, so it may be making an appearance on here as part of a different recipe.  Have a great rest of the weekend!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Creamy Chicken Ranch Chili

It's amazing how quickly housework, chores, and various errands can stack up when you're gone for practically 2 weeks.  We were out of town this past weekend for the wedding of a couple of our friends from Rolla and we had a great time!  Hanging out with the Rolla kids really seems to bring out the party in people :)  Now that we're back home and I've been doing some sprint cleaning, I finally feel like I have some time to write a blog post.  I'm down to the last backlogged post so I guess I'll have to get cooking/crafting this week.  But for now, here's a delicious chicken chili recipe that I found at a blog called Plain Chicken.  I've made it probably 3-4 times in the last couple months and we really love it!  Plus, it's sooooo easy.  It's a crock-pot recipe and you don't even have to thaw the chicken.  Here's the recipe:

Creamy Chicken Ranch Chili:

2 frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can corn, undrained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can Rotel, undrained
1 package ranch dressing mix
3/4 c. water
1 t. cumin
1 T. chili powder (or less if you don't like it too spicy)
1 t. onion powder
1 8 oz. cream cheese (I use the 1/3 less fat)

- Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of the crock-pot.  I usually run my bag of chicken under warm water just long enough to thaw the edges so I can cut off the questionable bits.
- Mix the corn, black beans, Rotel, ranch mix, water, cumin, chili powder, and onion powder together in a bowl.
- Pour the mixture over the chicken.  Slice the cream cheese into a few chunks and place them on top of everything in the crock-pot.
- Cook on low for 8-10 hrs, or on high for 4-5 hrs.  If possible, stir it around a couple of times during cooking.
- Near the end of the cooking time, use 2 forks and shred the chicken in the crock-pot.  Then stir so the cream cheese gets mixed in well.
- Enjoy!  It would probably look nice garnished with something like cilantro or even avocados, but obviously I didn't do that.

Everything but chicken and cream cheese.
Ready to cook.  The chicken is hiding at the bottom.
After cooking, but before shredding the chicken.
The chicken shreds apart really easily.
All done!
Mm, mm, mm
Hopefully I'll be able to pick back up on my posting this week.  I'm supposed to be making a 40th birthday cake for a coworkers wife this Saturday, so that may be keeping me busy.  We'll see.  Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

St. Pat's Weekend in New Orleans!

This past weekend I hopped on a plane to New Orleans to spend some time with a lot of people that I don't get to see nearly enough.  I spent Friday night through Sunday morning hanging out with my awesome/crazy/funny group of friends from Lake Charles celebrating Amanda Schram's bachelorette party.  We started the weekend off right with sangria margaritas at Superior Grill (which I plan on trying to replicate very soon) then bar hopped for a little while.  Saturday's main event was the St. Pat's parade where we had to fight to keep our prime parade spot.  Then we headed down to the French Quarter for dinner and danced the night away at The Gold Mine.  Sunday morning we grabbed brunch and then I told the girls goodbye and met up with my cousin Michael and Uncle Harold.  They took me out for an AMAZING lunch at Mr. B's in the French Quarter and then we caught part of the Irish/Italian parade just down the street from Michael's house in Metarie.  I had an such a great time this weekend and can truly say that there is no where in the world quite like New Orleans!  I'm already looking for a reason to go back and bring Joe with me, although the shrimp and grits at Mr. B's is reason enough to go back as far as I'm concerned.

Here are some pictures from the weekend!

The Bride, Amanda!  We had to peel labels off the hotel shampoo bottles to hold the sash together :)
Dinner and sangria margaritas at Superior Grill.  L-R: Kaye, Erin-Beth, Sarah, Me, Meghan, Amanda
A Cajun band a Les Bon Temps bar.  They had a song called, "She's the biggest little shrimp in town".
Waiting for the parade to start
Amanda with Gumby and his leprechaun friend.
This man was part of a "walking club".  They walk in parades and hand out flowers in exchange for kisses on the cheek.  We made sure Amanda got lots of flowers :)  Oh, and yes those are underwear in her hair.  That was also a gift from a parade walker.
Alex and Erin-Beth made sure that the ice chest didn't run off.
Amanda really started to fill up! 
We found Flat Stanley!
I caught a chicken for Sarah to take home!
Erin-Beth caught a cabbage!  There was a variety of produce being thrown...
Kaye and Sarah caught a lot too
Saturday night at the Gold Mine.
I thought this big guy's little glasses were so funny and I had to get a picture with him.
We ran into a nice group of guys who were part of a bachelor party.  As you can tell, they were a little crazy so of course we made Amanda get a picture with them :)
Uncle Harold and Me.  I hope I can be like him when I'm 93.  
Me and Michael at the Irish/Italian parade.  Notice the cool Mardi Gras and New Orleans Saints Bud Light cans.  I wish we could find those in KC!  
I'm trying to catch a cabbage to add to our pile of potatoes, onions, garlic and lemons.  Michael caught a cabbage eventually.  
This lovely lady was part of a ladies walking club and was handing flowers out to guys.    That's not something you'll see everyday :)  
Well, that's the condensed version of my pictures.  I guess I could have ended with a nicer photo :)  I'll probably put more on Facebook eventually.  Thanks to the Sarah for setting up the weekend and to Amanda for letting me be part of her wedding!  I had an awesome time with you girls!  Thank you also to Michael and Uncle Harold, it was so great to see both of you and I hope I'll see you again at the family reunion this summer!

Oh, and in case you're wondering what Joe did to amuse himself while I was gone...

Olathe gives out free compost.  And yes, my car does still smell like dirt.
He filled the back of my car with compost and then mulch and did yard work all weekend.  Then he grilled himself some burgers, drank beer and watched hockey.  I didn't feel to bad about leaving him alone :)

Don't worry, no vegetables were harmed in the making of this meal.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Applesauce Muffins with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

That title is quite a mouthful, and so were the muffins :) Hehe.  I'm sorry, that was super corny.  Anyway, I feel like it's been forever since I posted something, but it certainly isn't for lack of things to write about.  I spent this last weekend in New Orleans for Amanda Schram's bachelorette party, and also I got to visit with my uncle Harold and cousin Michael.  It was so great to see everyone, and I can't wait to show some pictures.  Once I get a few more pics from some of the other bridesmaids, I'll write a post about my trip.

For now, I'll show you the treat I made for the St. Pat's potluck at work last Friday.  I realize that St. Patrick's Day has come and gone, but these muffins are good anytime, and the icing could be put on regular cupcakes all year round!  The muffin recipe is one that I was very familiar with from my childhood.  Mom used to make these all the time and the original recipe is from the American Heart Association cookbook so they're relatively healthy.  The icing uses the new white chocolate cream cheese that Philadelphia came out with.  I could have eaten that cream cheese by the spoonful!  Sooooo good.  I wanted the icing to be rainbow swirl so that the muffins would look sort of like pots of gold at the end of the rainbow :)  I didn't take pictures of how I made it rainbow swirl, but I'll try my best to explain it.  First of all, here's the muffin recipe.

Applesauce Muffins (From the American Heart Association Cookbook
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. vegetable or canola oil
1 c. applesauce
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
3/4 c. brown sugar

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add oil and applesauce and stir to combine.  Divide batter between 12 lined muffin cups.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when poked into a muffin.  This recipe is really easy to double.  Plus there are no raw eggs, so don't feel bad about eating the batter by the spoonful :)

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8 oz. container of Philadelphia white chocolate cream cheese
1/2 c. Crisco shortening
6 c. powdered sugar
1-2 T milk

You need this cream cheese in your life.
Mix the cream cheese and shortening until smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and enough milk to make it the consistency that you'd like.  Place it in an airtight container until ready to use.  This made barely enough to frost 24 muffins.

To frost the muffins I placed a Wilton 1M tip in a pastry bag and then placed the bag into a large cup and folded it over the edges to keep it open.  Then I used toothpicks and gel food coloring to make a stripe of each rainbow color around the inside of the bag.  I tried to make the stripes kind of heavy so that the color wouldn't fade too quickly.  Then I scooped the icing into the pastry bag, twisted the top and squeezed the icing down till it started coming out with the rainbow stripes.  Next I just piped swirls onto the muffins.  One thing I learned while doing this was to make sure and try and get all the icing you'll need into the bag on the first go because if you have to open it back up and add more icing, it will be all smooshed together and the colors won't come out as a rainbow the next time.  You could do this with any other holiday colors, or maybe school colors.  People at work thought they were store bought :)  Here are a few more pictures of the final product!

These muffins are awesome without the icing, and you should definitely give them a try!  I guess that's it for tonight.  Have a happy week!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Taste of Tulsa

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm in Tulsa this week on business.  I traveled with a coworker and we're sharing a company car, so I was assuming that we'd be getting dinner together all three nights.  Well, he decided that he just wanted to eat at the hotel every night.  That meant that I got the keys and got to choose whatever I wanted to eat!  This turned out kind of nice for me, because I could try out fun restaurants and not have to worry about the usual, "what do you want to eat?", "doesn't matter to me, I'll eat whatever..."  You know what I'm talking about.  Unfortunately the area around where I'm staying is pretty bare as far as restaurants go, except for the standard fast food joints.  Luckily, downtown Tulsa was only about 5 miles down the interstate.

On Monday night, I decided that sushi sounded good for dinner, so I did a quick Google search and found a place that was kind of on the edge of downtown.  It looked good to me so I punched the address in my Garmin and headed out.   The restaurant was Yokozuna and it was in a cool, kind of "hipster" area called the Blue Dome District.  I picked out a couple sushi rolls that looked tasty and then made the mistake of ordering a mocha/chocolate type beer that was NOT a good choice to have with the sushi.  Oh well, I guess that will teach me to ask what type of drink goes well with certain things.  Anyway, here's what I got at Yokozuna.

The Geisha's Demise: Seared yellow fin tuna, avocado, wasabi and crab; rolled in ichimi pepper with a sweet evil sauce.
- This was a lot spicier than what I'd usually order, but still delicious.

The Drunken Monkey:  Smoked salmon, cream cheese and mango, topped with avocados and cashews, and served with a pineapple rum sauce.
- This one was practically like a dessert roll!  But very good.

After dinner I walked around the Blue Dome District and scouted a couple other restaurants that I wanted to try.  So on Tuesday night I went to The Dilly Deli which was just down the street from Yokozuna and ordered a sandwich to go.  The restaurant was pretty cool inside, but I got there 10 minutes before close and couldn't stick around to eat there.  Here's what I got:

The "Heather" Sandwich: Spinach, fresh mozzarella, avocado, red onion, and sun-dried tomato mayo on sourdough.  The sandwich was great, but maybe a little heavy on mayo.  Could have used some bacon too :)

Tonight I went to Joe Mamma's Pizza in the same area as the other two places.  The bar tender suggested the "Betty White" pizza so I went with that, along with a side salad and a Woodchuck pear cider.  Every single pizza on their menu looked awesome and I could tell that it was a pretty popular place.  Here's the Betty White pizza:

Garlic alfredo sauce, roma tomatoes, feta cheese, crushed black pepper and mozzarella.  Sooooooo good.  Plus I have leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

Well, I doubt that most of you will be venturing to Tulsa anytime soon, but if you do now you've got a few suggestions of places to eat.  Or maybe at the very least this will inspire you to try some new pizzas, sandwiches or sushi!  Even if it means that you have to go out and do it by yourself and risk looking like a huge loser, so you just play on your phone so people will think you're not such a loser.  Not that I would know what that's like or anything.  I guess that's it for tonight.  I probably won't post again till next week, but we'll see.  Until then, have a great weekend and the BEST EVER ST. PAT'S!!!

Oh, and here's the reason it's called the Blue Dome District.

I had to get a picture of Arnie's Bar in there for you, Dad.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Orange Beef and Broccoli

Greetings from Tulsa, OK!  I'm spending this week in the lovely state of Oklahoma so I can attend a class on pipeline design and construction.  Yesterday, one of my coworkers and I drove down from Kansas City and rested up for our first day of class this morning at 8:00.  I like to think that I learned a lot today, but I won't bore you with the details.  But I will say that the instructor is an Irish-Canadian, so that makes for a pretty fun accent.  Think Irish, with some "ehs?" and "aboots" mixed in.

Anyway, before I left for the week, I saved up a couple recipes to blog about while I'm gone.  The first one is Orange Beef & Broccoli.  I found this one in a blog (of course) and thought that it sounded tasty.  Also, Joe really likes Chinese food, and sometimes I get tired of stir fry, so this would satisfy both of us :).  It actuallly tasted like something from a Chinese restaurant, but I felt much less guilty about eating it since I knew exactly what went into it.  Click here for the original recipe at Pinch of Yum.

Here's what you'll need:

Juice of 1 orange
1 T. fresh orange zest
2 T. low sodium soy sauce
1/4 c. beef broth
1/3 c. orange marmalade
2 T. corn starch
1 t. oil
1 lb. flank steak; sliced very thin
salt and pepper to taste*
3 cloves garlic; minced
1 head broccoli; washed and cut into bite sized pieces

- Mix the first 6 ingredients together in a small bowl and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved.

- Place the broccoli in a microwave-safe bowl with about 1 T. of water and cook on high for 1 1/2 min.  Set aside.

- Sprinkle the steak with salt and pepper.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet and add the steak and garlic.  I just grated the garlic right over the skillet using a Microplane.  It's much easier for me than chopping the garlic.

- Drain off the fat once the meat is cooked.  Add in the sauce mixture and cook for about 1 minute or until sauce starts to thicken a bit.  Stir in the broccoli and cook for another minute.  Serve over rice and enjoy!

* I actually didn't put the salt an pepper on the steak before cooking it, but I wish I had because it could have used a little more seasoning.

I hope you're all having a great week and getting ready for some serious St. Pat's fun this weekend.  I can't wait to see my girls Sarah & Amanda Schram this weekend in New Orleans!  St. Paaaaaaats!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Signs of Spring

The season is definitely beginning to change here in Kansas.  Our grass is turning green, the tulips have popped up, and we've had several very warm days lately.  Those things are great and all, but my favorite sign of spring is... GARAGE SALES!!!  I just love them.  You never know what little gem you'll find hiding in a pile of some other person's trash.  I blame (or give credit to, however you see it) my garage sale obsession on my Mom.  We used to circle the garage sales in the paper that looked good, and then head out around 7:00 a.m. on Saturday to start looking for deals.  And even before that, my older sisters and I would ride our bikes around the neighborhood with whatever spare change we had to look for things at garage sales.  I specifically remember a pair of black, patent leather shoes with big ribbon laces that Mary brought home from a sale once.  At the time, I thought they were pretty cool, and probably even wore them a time or two.

I no longer look for cool shoes at garage sales, but I do look for household items that I might need.  Joe and I have found some pretty good things at sales around here.  We've picked up a kitchen table, extension ladder, and wheel barrow to name a few of the big items.  And I've bought various odds and ends as well.  I found that there were a few garage sales right in our area this weekend, so we decided to hit the road this morning to see what we could find.  There ended up being even more garage sales than what I'd found online, so we stopped at those too.  Here's what we come home with today after spending a total of $9.

- Trivial Pursuit $0.50
- Adverteasing $0.50
- Unopened wrapping paper $1
- Roll of valentine's cellophane $1
- 3 Wilton heart pans $2
- 2 "treat boxes" $1
- Reed & Barton silverplate and enamel bowl $3

My favorite item was definitely the little silver and green bowl.  I'd seen one just like it on a blog that a lady found for $1 at a thrift store and then polished it up.  So when I saw that this one said Reed & Barton on the bottom, I knew that it was silver and could be restored to look much nicer than its current state.  The price was marked has $4, but I talked her down to $3, ha!  I need to work on my haggling skills...  Here's how the bowl looked when we got it.

And here's how it looked after a little silver polish.

I love it!

I looked at the price of a new bowl that is just silver plate with no enamel and they sell for $75.  There are some silver and enamel ones on E-bay that sell for anywhere from $10 to $25.  So I'm happy with the deal we got.  I'm looking forward to even more garage sales coming up and I'll let you know if we find anything really good, but don't worry, I won't bore you with all the little stuff.  Just wanted to let you know that garage sale season is in full swing and to keep your eyes out for some treasures.  Happy Spring!