February 8, 2012

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Bites

I recently had a party where I needed some sort of dessert. I didn't want to bake, and I didn't want something straight off the shelf.

While I was wandering Cost Plus World Market the day before the party, I saw this cool toothpicks with knotted bamboo at the decorative end. And it struck me (an idea - not the toothpick): I could do a dessert skewer!

Thus, Chocolate Covered Strawberry Bites were born.
Strawberries - cut into halves or quarters, depending on size
1 Sara Lee Pound Cake - cut into bit-sized cubes
Candy chocolate (or chocolate chips and a spoonful of Crisco)

1. Skewer alternating chunks of pound cake and strawberry
2. Melt chocolate in microwave - stirring often.
3. Drizzle chocolate over skewered food (skewers should be placed on wax paper or something similar for this step).
4. Let set.

Dinner Braids

I was bouncing along Pinterest one day recently when I came across this idea to stuff dinner inside a bread braid. I thought about how lazy I am when it comes to baking breads. And how generally lazy I am in making dinner when I have no other adults to feed any give night. So, I immediately wrote off the bread braid idea.

One night while staring at my fridge - praying a fully prepared dinner would randomly show up on a shelf - I noticed a tube of Pillsbury crescent dough. You know, the kind that rolls out in one whole sheet. And that's when I realized I, too, could be fancy!

Bread Braid:
1. Preheat oven to 375
2. Unroll crescent dough. Roll out or press out slightly with fingers.
3. Fill center third with whatever filling you want (see below for ideas)
4. Make cuts about an inch apart along the remaining two-thirds of the dough.
5. Braid pieces over each other.
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Simple, right?
Isn't it pretty?

Filling Ideas:

- Ham and cheese
- Pesto, mozzerella & sliced tomato
- Peanut butter, banana, and jelly

- Small meatballs, marinara, mozzerella
- Pizza fillings
- Grilled veggies and cheese
- Taco fillings

Go Try it. See how awesome it is. Everyone will think you're fancy, too!
If you try any other fillings, let me know! I love new ideas!

Brownie Bottom Cupcakes

The premise: A cupcake with a layer of brownie on the bottom

The reality: A cupcake with brownie on the bottom

Here's my attempt at here. I'd say it worked out. It was yummy and easy to make. Two boxes of mix. Twice as many cupcakes as normal. All around, it's a simple, lovely way to make a "fancy" cupcake.

Rolos Butter Bars

I'm addicted to a blog called Cookies and Cups. This chick makes super yummy looking desserts. I'm a fan. I haven't tried everything on her blog, but I have stared at the screen and drooled for hours. Of the few things I've made, they've been winners...

Except this one:
The blogger did a series on desserts using cake mixes. I'm not a purist. Cake mixes rock my world. So, I showed the pic of the Rolos Bars to my officemate and he started drooling. So I made them. And they weren't that exciting. They tasted an awful lot like cake mix and Rolos. I guess I imagined a buttery, caramelly, chocolately goodness. And it just wasn't that.

I know I didn't botch the recipe (read it - you'll see why you can't botch it.) And I know the author of Cookies and Cups knows her stuff. But even when you're the best whatever-er in the world, you're going to make something less than a homerun every once in a while.

Now, I must get off the computer before I drool over her other blog entries.

Quick and Easy Appetizers

For years and years I've gone to this easy-peasy appetizer recipe for all my party needs. I throw everything in a crockpot and then just leave it to do its thing while I get ready for the party.

Cocktail Meatballs:
Put into corckpot 1 jar (10oz) of chili sauce, 1 jar (12 oz) of grape jelly, and one package of frozen, cooked meatballs or lil smokies. Set crockpot to low for at least two hours.
Serve from crockpot with slotted spoon or toothpicks.

Why not put both meatballs and lil smokies in the crockpot? It's yummy and is a good source of giggles for the right (immature) crowd.

January 21, 2012

Anniversary Gift

The day after my 9th wedding anniversary I wandered through the journal/gift section of Barnes and Noble and picked out a journal similar to the one here.

Starting that very night, I started a journal for my husband.
The first page was a 10th anniversary love letter, explaining what the journal was and why I was doing it.
Then, every night of our 10th year of marriage, I wrote a journal entry. Most were short and sweet, some were long and wordy. But each one was a declaration of my love. And I always made the subject of the entry something that either he did, didn't do, said, or even something I saw/heard that reminded me of him.
The journal turned into 365 expressions of my love. Someday the only thing I could write was "The text message you sent me today made me pause for a minute in the middle of my crazy work day and remember why I work so hard when I'm away from home."
Other days, when we weren't communicating exactly as the perfect married couple should, I wrote something along the lines of "We're not happy with each other right now. In fact, I'm pretty unhappy with you. But that's why I'm writing this. No matter how frustrated I am with you, I know the feeling is this strong because I love you that much."
On our 10th anniversary, I wrapped up the journal and handed it over.
Still, almost a year later, Mr Moose will pull the journal out and read the words I wrote well over a year ago and understand the many different ways I love him and appreciate him.
Now, the trick is - at least for me - to figure out what to get him for our anniversary this year. Any suggestions?

3 Minute Bracelet

I was test-driving another project when I decided to take a break and wander through my craft supplies. I found some grosgrain ribbon and another strip of ribbon/trim of huge flowers (easily found in the by-the-yard ribbon area of your local fabric/craft store). I grabbed my needle and thread and a snap closure. That's it. Easy peasy.

Step 1: Cut off excess mesh backing from the flower/embellishment

Step 2: Cut ribbon about an inch bigger than the wearer's wrist.

Step 3: Sew the flower/embellishment to the ribbon by hand.

Step 4: Sew each half of the snap closure to the ends of the grosgrain ribbon.

Step 5: Snap on the wearer's wrist.

Moose Tracks:
This really did take me three minutes to put together.
The sewing doesn't need to be amazing or precise (thank goodness.)
I'm going to be making another one of these in a day or two because I want to see how it reacts with a spray or two of fabric stiffener.
I also want to see if it works better with some other form of closure. The snap closure works great, but I'm too lazy to really sew it down to make sure it doesn't come back up.

DIY Feather Flats

All over Pinterest I've seen people pinning heels with trendy feathers attached in different ways. And I've loved them all. But I don't wear heels - for a multitude of reasons. So, my brain started churning and this is what I came up with: Feather Flats.
Two feather fascinators (easily found in the jewelry/headband making section of your favorite craft store)
A pair of color-coordinating cloth flats (see Moose Tracks for thoughts on leather flats)
Sewing thread in a coordinating color
Heavy-duty needle

The feathers I found are the type used to make your own headband. The are glued to a backing and have loops the headband slides through.

Step 1: Remove any sort of decoration on the show in the area where you want to apply the feather. Use a seam ripper or small scissors.

Step 2: Using the needle and thread, sew the feathers to the shoes.

Step 3: Show those babies off!

Moose Tracks:
I needed a thimble to help push the needle through the shoes and the feather. It wasn't difficult, but it's painful to push a sewing needle with bare hands.
If I can find some skinnier feathers (in a color/pattern I like, of course), I'd like to try wrapping/sewing the feathers around the heel of the flat.
I'm not a seamstress. I'm a lazy crafter. Because I used the right color blue thread, you couldn't tell how well I did or didn't sew. I made sure to get the edges of the feather fascinators and didn't worry about the center.
I did learn that any sort of large space between stitches results in a weird sensation on the foot.
If I'd had leather flats I'd probably have tried attaching the feather fascinators with some sort of adhesive cement that works on fabric and leather. Maybe I'll try that next time.
My total investment for these hip, trendy shoes was $9 for the flats and $4 for the feathers. So, pretty cool shoes for $13, right?

Last-Minute Creamy Penne with Chicken & Broccoli

I have young kids. Two beautiful boys. And as much as I love them, I'm starting to notice that they depend on me. Greatly. Like how they want dinner every night, even though they were fed lunch, breakfast, and a snack or three. They still want dinner. Why is that?!
Well, until I can solve the problem of them having to eat so regularly, I chose to work on the problem of what to feed them. Some nights I just don't have it in me to make a four course meal for two little guys (hubs works nights. I don't feed him during the week, in case you were wondering.)
Last week I threw together some stuff and it turned out to be a pretty good dinner.

Last-Minute Creamy Penne with Chicken & Broccoli

2 chicken breasts (no need to be thawed)
1-2 Tbsp Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
2+ cloves minced garlic (or equiv amount garlic powder)
1 - 2 C broccoli florets, frozen
2-3 C Penne Pasta
1 C cream, half and half, or milk
2-4 Tbsp butter
1/4 C parmesean cheese
Diced tomatoes for garnish
Parsley for garnish

Dice frozen chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add chicken, salt, pepper and garlic.
Brown chicken.
While chicken cooks, boil water for pasta.
Cook pasta and broccoli according to directions on pasta box/bag.
Just before pasta's done, scoop 3-4 ladelfuls of pasta water into chicken.
Add cream, butter and parm.
Stir until sauce thickens slightly.
Add in drained pasta and broccoli. Stir to coat.
Sprinkle with minced/julienne/chopped parsley and fresh diced tomatoes.

Peach Bread (Canned Fruit)

Peach bread. It's made of yum.
Have I told y'all I live at high altitude? It means some of my quick breads fall in the middle. But they're still baked wonderfully and are super yummy. I like to think of it as a feature of quick breads I make.
Without further ado, I bring you another bread recipe for canned fruit.
3 eggs
2 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 C vegetable oil
3 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp orange zest/dried orange peel
2 C diced peaches, drained
1/2 C walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350
Grease and flour bread pans (this recipe makes the equivalent of 2 8x4 inch loaves).
Beat together all wet ingredients.
Add in dry ingredients until combined.
Fold in peaches.
Pour or scoop batter into prepared pans.
Bake at 350 until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Note: For 8x4 loaves it's about an hour. For mini loaves I tend to get it done in just under 35 minutes. Muffins take 18-25.

Moose Tracks:
When you find something that works - stick with it. Peach bread is a variation on a theme of the Ginger Pear Blueberry Bread. See what I did there?

Ginger Pear Blueberry Bread

It turns out I have a bunch of canned fruit. And I don't necessarily enjoy popping open a can and going at it. So, I've been trying to find ways to use the fruit. Here's one of the ways that's turned out darn good:

Ginger Pear Blueberry Bread

3 eggs
2 C sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 C vegetable oil
3 C flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp lemon zest/peel
1 1/2 C diced pears, drained
1 C blueberries

Preheat oven to 350
Grease and flour bread pans (this recipe makes the equivalent of 2 8x4 inch loaves).
Beat together all wet ingredients.
Add in dry ingredients until combined.
Fold in pears and blueberries.
Pour or scoop batter into prepared pans.
Bake at 350 until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Note: For 8x4 loaves it's about an hour. For mini loaves I tend to get it done in just under 35 minutes. Muffins take 18-25.

January 2, 2012

Noon Year's Eve Party

My boys go to bed relatively early, regardless of what day the calendar says it is. Yet it's important to me to celebrate holidays with them. Which means New Year's Eve presents a problem for me. I don't even want to stay up until midnight, and there's no way I'm going to entertain my grumpy, tired children way past their bedtime. So, I came up with Noon Year's Eve. And when I say I came up with it, I mean 6 days until the new year I decided to go all out and throw a party. With a little more planning, some things would have been done differently. I'll explain those as I go along.

The invitations - a confetti cannon. Blog post all about that can be found here.
The decorations:
The New Year's banner at the top of the post. Ideally I'd have modified it so it said Noon Year. But on 6 days (three of which I had to work), it was good enough straight out of the package.

I chose paper lanterns (unlit) to hang above the food area. I used 3M's Command Adhesive and hooks to hang up the lanterns (strung with fishing line). The color scheme was multicolored, is I have two multi-colored ones and a bright green lantern, all from Cost Plus World Market.

I covered my island with a tablecloth cut to fit the odd shape. It kept the countertop clean and kept anyone from noticing the flaws in my laminate counters.

The dining and craft area was pretty simple. Above the table I hung foil spiral stars (3 pack for each color, available at Walmart).

From the light fixture I hung some sparkly balls. These I bought from Cost Plus in an after Christmas clearance sell. If I had to make them I'd get some sequins and foam balls from a craft store and just go at it.
The centerpiece was a cheap flowerpot and flower foam. I stuck after Christmas clearance sparkly things into the foam, and then covered the foam with multi-colored foil-covered candies. Easy peasy.

Crafts: Around the centerpiece above you'll see a collection of picture frame sets. They're little printed frames with markers. I found them in the $1 aisle at my local craft store. I was actually looking for foam frames and foam stickers.
I also had available a large bowl of random plastic beads and some elastic cord for do it yourself kid jewelry.

For party favors I went simple. A multipack of kid's star-shaped sun glasses (15 for $5.99 at my local party supply store) and some glow in the dark bracelets ($1 for 15 at my local craft store).
For the countdown, I also provided an assortment of New Year's party hats. If I'd had more time, I'd have made my own hats that said Noon Years.

Food (sorry for the bad pics):
I found some cute framed chalk boards at Cost Plus World Market. I used these to provide the menu to guests.
Lunch was a nacho bar. I had nacho cheese in one crockpot and chili in another, I also provided chips (I used some red/green Christmas ones, mixed with some yellow and blue tortilla chips), sour cream, jalapenos and salsa. Nachos could be dished up in standard nacho dishes (the red and white kind found at football games. You know the type.) The nacho bowls were easy to get at my local craft store. I provided smaller animal face bowls from Walmart. They were easy to find in the paper goods aisle.
Dessert was a popcorn bar. I used pre-popped popcorn in popcorn boxes (craft store.) I had set out different popcorn flavorings (cheese, caramel, butter, and cinnamon sugar), along with lots of yummy mix-ins (mini Oreos, mixed nuts, mini M&Ms, and gummi bears) The kids loved being able to choose their own mix-ins.
We counted down to Noon, and then had a balloon drop (Instructions here.)The kids had a blast playing with the balloons for at least a half hour.

And that, my readers, is how the Moose household celebrated Noon Year's Eve.
The party was a success, was easy to set up, and even easier to clean up (aside from the 91ish balloon still scattered in my livingroom). We started at 10:30AM and said goodbye to our last guests around 1pm. It was short, sweet, and - most importantly - perfect for getting everyone to bed on time. We'll be doing it again next year - maybe a black and white theme for 2012...

DIY Balloon Drop

For the Noon Year's Eve party I wanted something big to happen at Noon. And what kid doesn't love a gazillion balloons?! So a balloon drop it is.

I used a standard paper tablecloth - the kind with a plastic backing, a piece of yearn about 10' long, a hole puncher, 91 balloons, and some confetti.

Step 1: Cut tablecloth in half to create two almost squares.

Step 2: Along the cut edge of each half, punch holes, approx 1" apart.

Step 3: Thread yarn through holes, creating a "zipper" through the middle of the tablecloth, making sure to leave most of the yarn hanging from one side (this will become the ripcord when it's time for the drop).
Step 4: Hang the tablecloth from the ceiling. Duct tape works perfectly for this. We used command adhesive and some plastic hooks. Just make sure you hang it so there's some slack in the tablecloth. That's where you'll put the balloons.

Step 5: Blow up balloons until your lungs hurt and your fingers are raw from tying the darn things. I used 91 balloons - a mixture of 7" and 9".

Step 6: Place balloons in tablecloth.

Step 7: Throw confetti on top of balloons.
When it's time for the balloon drop, quickly pull the yarn ripcord. The balloons and confetti will drop. And the kids will love it (adults too!)

Silly Elfkins (Part 2)

The continuing saga of Elfkins, our Elf on the Shelf.
Again, some ideas are found from the pictures on Pinterest. Some are my own.

Elfkins didn't quite make it back inside before Toddler Moose woke up. Good thing he flies with his ear muffs and scarf on! Silly Elfkins.
Elfkins brought a new puzzle to play with. He even almost finished it by the morning. Silly Elfkins!
Elfkins hid out on a wall sculpture. This particular one is about 9 feet off the ground. Silly Elfkins.
Elfkins dusted our fan, but got caught up there when Toddler Moose woke up the next morning. Silly Elfkins!
Elfkins hid Toddler Moose's stocking and replaced it with one he made at preschool. Silly Elfkins!
Elfkins started building a snowman army out of Marshmallows, toothpicks and Sharpie Markers. Silly Elfkins!
Elfkins doesn't know the password to the iPad, so he had to go with the physical Angry Birds game. Silly Elfkins!
Toddler Moose woke one morning to find Elfkins in the midst of partying hard. He was caught with pretzels everywhere and even a few Hershey's Kisses. Silly Elfkins!
Elfkins used some glitter to make a snow angel. Silly Elfkins!
The night of my birthday, Elfkins found himself helping to hang my birthday sign. Silly Elfkins!

Not shown (the only picture I didn't get): Elfkins brought us a gingerbread train kit, and he even took the time to frosting-glue the pieces together. He must have known how impatient we are with that step in the process. Silly Elfkins!

I have it on good authority that Elfkins will likely stop in a few times throughout the year to check on the boys.

Crockpot Hawaiian Chicken

So, my bestie has often mentioned this meal in text messages. And with only four ingredients, I thought I'd give it a try. It was easy and made plenty to eat. She has a twist on the meal. I'll happily explain that later.

Crockpot Hawaiian Chicken
1 jar Hawaiian barbecue sauce (I used Target brand/Archer Farms)
1 can crushed pineapple
2-4 frozen chicken breasts

Place chicken breasts in crockpot (spray with oil if not using a liner)
Mix pineapple and barbecue sauce.
Pour over chicken.
Let cook on high 4-6 hours, or low 6-8 hours, or until chicken falls apart easily with tongs.
Serve over rice.

Mel's variation:
Serve on bun with coleslaw.


Scooter Boards

My boys love anything with wheels. And if it's something they can do together - AND has wheels - it's golden in the Moose house.

So, we've made scooter boards. Pretty easy to make.

Scrap wood - approx 14" x 14"
4 casters
16 screws, no longer than the width of the scrap wood
Cut board to size. Square is ideal, but a perfect square just isn't necessary. We used an old scrap piece of laminate countertop. It's what we had handy.

Attach a caster in each corner using the screws.

Sand down any sharp/rough edges.

Have fun.
Moose Tracks:
You could paint or decoupage or decorate the heck out of this thing,. I would have if it weren't for the laminate countertop material.
My boys love to take turns sitting on the scooter and having the other push him around. It's a ton of fun.
Baby Moose (shown above) is wearing a helmet. It's not because helmets are necessary on these (although it's never a bad idea), but because he'd just gotten off a motorized vehicle that did require a helmet.
We often move the livingroom furniture around to create some sort of a racetrack or obstacle course. Then the boys each take a scooter board and race. It's perfect rainy day fun.