Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Faux-Fancy Dessert: Trick Your Friends and Co-horts!

No pics today, friends. But I wanted to share this wonderful idea for a faux-fancy dessert.

In case you hadn't already guessed why I call it faux-fancy, don't worry... I'll clue you in. I take sympathy on people who don't immediately put things together on their own... who stand scratching their heads while everyone else is laughing hysterically. You are not alone; I am one of you.

Anyway... I call this dessert faux-fancy because, like faux-fur...

or a faux-hawk...

...it is only pretending to be fancy when it is really quite simple. (Oh look at me... I said no pictures but I just couldn't help myself!)

Here's what I did when I needed dessert in a snap:

I took a box of one of my favorite fall staples, Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread Mix.

I prepared it according to the package directions and baked it in my mini muffin tin. Which brings us to step one for creating a faux-fancy dessert:

1. Make It Mini!
Have you ever noticed that fancy restaurants always serve tiny little portions? Or think about those darling little mini-tarts or tea sandwiches at tea houses. Those are sooooo faux-fancy! I mean come on, all they are is cream cheese and cucumber slapped between plain white bread. Ahhh, but cut them into cute little triangles and... voila! Fancy little delicacies. So next time you are getting ready to bake up a packaged-mix but you want something a little more special, consider baking them in your mini loaf pans or mini muffin tins.

Next I made a glaze for these darlin' little pumpkins... which brings us to step two for creating a faux-fancy dessert...

2. Top it, Baby!
Create a snazzy topping for your simple, out-of-the-box dessert, and your guests will be none the wiser!
In the case of the mini pumpkins (Hmmm... that sounds like a film noir waiting to happen), I made a quick and simple, yet fancy-sounding glaze. Here's the recipe:

Brown Sugar Caramel Glaze
courtesy of The Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn

3 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp light brown sugar
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
3 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring. Let boil for one minute, stirring often.
  • Remove the pan from heat, and let the glaze thicken slightly. Spoon or spread the warm glaze onto the cake (or faux-fancy mini-cakes) of your choice.
So, like I was saying, I whipped up this delicious, DELICIOUS concoction to drizzle over the tops of my cakes... but there is still one more very important step to creating a faux-fancy dessert...

3. Dish It Up!
As with anything, presentation is everything. The way you display your dessert will really determine whether it deserves the title of faux-fancy or not. Even if your dessert isn't anything super special, you can make it special by serving it on a pretty platter and/or giving it a fancy title. On this particular occasion, I wrote out the name of the dessert on a small piece of white card stock and laid it in front of the dish. (I don't always do this, but I know some people don't like pumpkin desserts, so I took this extra step). I called them, "Mini Pumpkin Cakes with Brown Sugar Glaze." Super fancy sounding, but it took no time at all!

So there you have it! 3 easy steps to a fabulous, faux-fancy dessert.

Don't Forget... fanciness is fun and all, but what your guests will remember most is what a gracious hostess you were and how welcome you made them feel in your home. That's what true hospitality is all about. I really do enjoy making things fancy and special for my guests, but not when it overshadows my ability to be truly hospitable. It should be about making your guests feel special, not about impressing everyone with your mad skills (like nunchucks, for instance). And that's my two cents...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kitchen Miracles: Trader Joe's Pizza Dough

I love the pizza dough from Trader Joe's! You will find it in the refrigerated section, and it is fabulous!

Not only is it great for making traditional pizza, (which we will discuss momentarily) but I love it as a "use-up" for leftovers or a great way to clean out your meat and cheese drawer. For instance, if you have leftover BBQ chicken, make a BBQ chicken pizza with cheddar, cilantro and red onions. If you have leftover taco meat, make a "taco pizza" with the leftover meat, cheese, black olives, beans, etc. You can put almost anything on some dough, throw it in the oven and call it pizza! Get some inspiration from CPK's menu. Just look at all the unique pizzas they offer!

But if a non-unique, conformist pizza is what you're looking for, look no further... Casey Crocker's got you covered there too! In fact I just prepared said pizza for dinner tonight, and it was received with accolades, rave reviews and festoons of roses. Okay, there weren't any roses... but there should have been. It was a good pizza.

Why order Round Table when you can make your own healthier, cheaper, just-as-delicious version right at home?!

Here's how to make a healthier version of a "Supreme" Style Pizza:

Grab your whole wheat TJ's pizza dough, and let it sit at room temp for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 475 and chop up your veggies and toppings!

I used:
  • TJ's pizza sauce
  • grated mozzarella cheese
  • grated cheddar cheese
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • pepperoni
  • chicken sausage, browned and crumbled
  • mushrooms (on McPreachy's half only)
  • green peppers, diced
  • yellow onion, diced

When your 20 minutes of getting-the-dough-to room-temperature time has elapsed, just stretch the dough into a big circle on your pizza stone or baking sheet. Next comes a small amount of sauce, followed by mozzarella, cheddar, meats, veggies and finally the parmesan.

Pop it in the oven for 12-15 minutes.

In the words of my dad, "Pizza, You Singin'-a My Song!" (don't ask...)

BONUS: Two meals for the work of one!

So, after I'd made my pizza tonight, I had a good amount of leftover sauce, meats and veggies. So I decided to make a "ready-to-go-pizza freezer bag" (I'm thinking of trademarking this super concise, catchy title!)

No clue WHAT I'm talking about? Come on, I'll show ya!

Here's the poor, distraught, leftover veggies, fearing the inevitable... that they'll get shoved into Tupperware in the back of the fridge, never to be heard from again.

But wait, dear veggies! There is hope!

I wrapped each veggie individually in plastic wrap...

Then placed then in a big Ziploc along with the half-used tub o' pizza sauce...

...the pepperoni (still in it's package)

  • And a baggie's worth of cooked chicken sausage.

  • I packaged it all up, labeled and dated it, and... drumroll...
    Here's my perfectly wonderful little pizza-freezer bag!

    Now the next time we have pizza, most of the work will be done already. All I will need to do is defrost the baggie overnight and grab some pizza dough and cheese from TJ's!

    Mama Mia! Bonjourno Pizza-pessa!

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Just when you think things are going well, you find poop smeared everywhere.

    ***Note: This post is not for the squeamish or faint hearted. There are horrible re-tellings of smeared fecal matter herein. Approach with caution.

    First of all, I need to say what a wonderful son Bennett is. I adore him, and I feel so blessed to be his Mama. God really gave me a treasure when He knit sweet Bennett together in my womb 3 years ago, and not a day goes by when I do not count myself the luckiest Mama in the world.

    That being said... here's a story for those of you who wonder if everything is always sunshine and roses in my neck o' the woods. There were no roses in my house today. No sunshine. Only fertilizer.

    It actually started out as a great day. We got out of the house and off to MOPS without any meltdowns or issues. We even got through a grocery store-stop on the way home without incident.

    Then came nap time.

    Nap time and bedtime have been a real struggle lately. Bennett gets out of bed over and over and over again, and dealing with it has been exhausting.

    Another *seemingly* unrelated struggle we've been having lately is that Bennett keeps pooping in the pull-up he wears for naps. He's been potty-trained for months now, and I'm positive he has plenty of time to make it to the potty when he feels the urge. So basically the pooping incidents are laziness on Bennett's part. I can just see him sitting there, thinking to himself:
    "I really need to poop but I don't feel like walking over to the potty right now. I'm playing cars. I think I'd prefer to just poop in my pull-up and hang out that way while I finish playing."

    Needless to say, Bennett has quickly figured out that Mama doesn't really jive with this lazy, poop-my-pants approach to bowel movements.

    It was today... on this lovely fall Thursday, that our two biggest toddler struggles collided. It was quite an incident.

    I put Bennett down for his nap, reminding him that he MUST stay in bed and that I'd be back to check in a few minutes to make sure he was obeying Mama. Then I went downstairs and got so engrossed in a few things I was doing that it was about 30 minutes before I went and checked on him.

    Quietly I tiptoed upstairs, hoping beyond hope that he was asleep. And there he was, sitting half naked on the carpet playing puzzles. As soon as he saw me, he smiled up sweetly.

    "Hi Mama!" he said with a grin. "Guess what? I went poopy! I flushed it in the toilet!"

    I checked the toilet, and his story seemed to be true.

    Even though I was frustrated that he wasn't asleep, I was thrilled that he seemed to have gone poop in the potty chair and not in his pull up.

    And then came the kicker.

    "Mama... " Bennett said, turning sheepish and pointing to the bed, "I got some poopy on that."

    I looked down and noticed that his comforter was covered in poop. I began scanning the room, realizing that there was poop everywhere... all over Bennett, the bed and the carpet where he'd been sitting playing puzzles. Then as I walked toward Bennett, I stepped in a wet spot on the carpet.

    "Bennett," I said, "Why is the carpet wet?"

    "Oh," he said, matter-of- factly, "I went potty on it, Mama."

    At this point I saw a soiled pull-up "hidden" behind Bennett's bed. (I put "hidden" in quotes because it was quite a terrible hide-job.)

    "Bennett," I asked in my serious Mama voice, "Where did you go poop? In the potty chair or the pull-up?

    My sweet boy tried to lie for a moment. I could just see his little wheels turning. But he quickly caved and told me the truth. "In my pull-up, Mama."

    What happened next is a blur of baby wipes, carpet cleaner and discussions about being deceptive and how wrong that is.

    As calmly as I possibly could, I cleaned and disinfected my son and the carpet. I put the bedding in the wash, put Bennett back in bed and went downstairs.

    Then, I caffeinated.

    And prayed.

    Because sometimes the only thing that can fix your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day is caffeine. And the grace of God.

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Seasonal Home Cookin': Favorite Fall Meals

    I'm a huge fan of seasonal cooking. By this I mean that I have special recipes I only pull out and make in the winter, spring, summer or fall... (all you have to do is call... and I'll be theeeere!) Sorry... I digress.

    Anyway today was wonderfully chilly and crisp, and it inspired me to put It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! on for Bennett and make a fall-inspired meal for dinner tonight.

    Tonight's meal was:
    Buttermilk Baked Chicken
    with Mashed Sweet Potatoes and Oven Roasted Applesauce*

    It was an Autumnly Amazing!

    To make the sweet potatoes, just peel, boil and mash a few sweet potatoes. Then add a little milk or cream, butter, honey and cinnamon. YUM!

    *For the applesauce, I skip the whole "food mill" step at the end (sometimes Martha can take things one step too far. I love you Martha, really I do... but seriously... a food mill?! Who has time for that?) Anyway, after the apples are good and soft, I just grab a good old potato masher and go to town. We like our applesauce a little chunky. Or you could pop it in the food processor too!

    Another one of my favorite fall meals is Rachael Ray's Open-Faced Hot Turkey Sandwiches with sausage stuffing and apple-cranberry sauce. Can I get a Yum-o?!

    More fall recipes to come...
    In the meantime, go make some hot apple cider, jump in a pile of leaves and try out these delish seasonal recipes!

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    My Favorite Season: It's Fall, Ya'll!

    Holy Toledo, am I excited for fall!
    Did I just say Holy Toledo?
    That's what the fall does to me. It makes me giddy.

    I LOVE FALL! The pumpkins, the apple cider, the candy corn, Southern California's glorious changing seasons... whoops. I guess I kind of miss out on that part.

    But worry not, my pretties... I make my own fall. Come along. I'll show you...

    Here's the console table in the family room all decked out for autumn.

    Here are a few random little paper buckets that I grouped together on a white tray to make a counter-top candy buffet.

    Here's the spoooooooooky mantle...

    And here is my Halloween pajama-clad daughter, chewing on a rubber giraffe.

    Happy Harvest!

    Holiday PJ's: I'm Obsessed

    Why is it that I just can't help myself from buying seasonal PJ's for my kids every year.

    It's become an obsession. Until I have our holiday PJ's in hand, I just feel like something's missing. Like there is a huge, holiday void in my heart that can only be filled with kitschy sleepwear.

    Here are Mallory's. Aren't they darling?

    I nearly had a panic attack in Kohls when I realized they didn't have any Halloween PJ's for boys. (I know, I need help). But not to worry (and I'm sure you were agonizing over it)... I found these puppies for Bennett. They were on sale and meet my Halloween PJ standards (no witches, vampires, skulls or other scary things. That's not how we roll... we're a peaceful, pumpkin-lovin' bunch).

    I keep telling myself to simplify my holiday traditions, decorating, baking and the like... and I'm trying... really I am.
    But when it comes to holiday PJ's, I'm a goner. I'm hopeless. I'm beyond saving.
    But really, who could resist seeing this little lady in these precious PJ's?

    Mallory looks a lot like her Daddy in this photo: (If her daddy were wearing polka-dotted Halloween PJ's, that is)

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Frugal Frannie: Make Your Own Taco Seasoning

    I hate to admit it, but I'm not usually the Frugal Frannie of my family. I'm more like Convenient Constance or Aesthetic Annie.

    Mc Preachy fills those shoes.

    He's very McFrugal.

    But I just came across a great money-saving tip, tried it out... and I'm a believer! It's a recipe for taco seasoning that you make yourself to use in chili, taco meat, fajitas, etc. If you're anything like me (Convenient Constance), you probably buy those taco-seasoning packets at the grocery store when you want to whip up your favorite Mexican dishes. The problemo is, those packets can be quite expensive. Well bienvenidos, Frugal Frannie. Welcome to my world. This mix is fabulous and much more budget-friendly.

    BONUS: This tip will not only turn you into a Frugal Frannie, it will also make you quite the little Healthy-Hattie. Because those packets at the grocery store are loaded with TONS of salt, MSG and other gross, unpronounceable additives. This mix is au' natural and much more healthy for your family.

    Here's the recipe. My one addition was... SALT! Okay, I know I just mentioned Healthy Hattie, but seriously, taco meat needs salt! And look at it this way, even if you add a good amount of salt, it will still not even come close to the amount of salt in one of those store-bought packets. So pat yourself on the back for saving on sodium and then shake it, baby, shake it!

    Here's what I'm going to make this week with my sauteed and delish-seasoned ground beef:

    Taco Salad a' la' Casey Crocker:
    • Romaine lettuce-- washed, dried and chopped
    • Ground Beef-- browned and seasoned with homemade taco seasoning mix!
    • 1 can corn, drained
    • 1 can black beans, drained
    • 1 avocado, cut up
    • tomatoes, chopped
    • black olives, sliced
    • dressing of your choice (I like spicy ranch for this salad.)
    • crushed tortilla chips

    Mix all ingredients together and toss. Top with crushed tortilla chips. Enjoy!

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Halle-flippin'-lujah: These Cookies Just Might Save the World

    My dear friend Arizona Amanda gave me the recipe for these truly, truly scrumptious (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang reference intended) cookies last year. And I hate to admit it, but I lost it. Twice.

    Sorry Amanda. I will blame it on being pregnant and absent-minded. And the fact that I was moving. It has nothing to do with the fact that I am unorganized. Nothing at all.

    Anyway, imagine my elation when I found the recipe the other day, in my wallet of all places. I just made them today and HOLY COW... they are good.

    They are goodness incarnate.

    They are the Mother Teresa of cookies.

    WARNING: If you don't like peanut butter, just walk away. These cookies are not for you. Although, I think we will have some serious relationship problems if you don't like peanut butter, but I will try to move past it if you will.

    Onto the cookies.

    Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip-Oatmeal Cookies
    • 1 c unsalted butter, room temp.
    • 1 c granulated sugar
    • 1 c packed light brown sugar
    • 3/4 c. creamy peanut butter
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 tsp. vanilla
    • 2 c all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 2 tsp. baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp salt (omit if you use salted butter)
    • 2 c chocolate chips
    • 2 c oats

    Using an electric mixer, beat butter, sugars and peanut butt-ah until well blended. Beat in eggs and vanilla until smooth.

    In another bowl mix flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Slowly beat flour mixture into butter mixture until well incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips and oats.

    Drop two tablespoons worth, 3 inches apart on greased baking sheets.

    Bake at 350 for 9-11 minutes. (note: if you forget the cookies and bake them for 25 minutes, they will be ruined... not that I did that.)

    Take the cookies out when the tops just feel set when lightly touched. They will seem under-cooked, but don't worry... they'll firm up when they cool.

    Let stand 5 minutes on sheets and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely... or just long enough that you don't burn your mouth when you start devouring them.

    Now go forth and save the world, one cookie at a time!