Thursday, June 30, 2011

Wino Wednes...Errr...Thursday

Yup, I'm a day late again.  Month end at work is crazy busy, but never too busy to stop and do a quick wine review.  This week's pick was Beso de Vino (I have to admit that I was swayed by a cute label).   So far, my Wino Wednesdays have been pretty great, this one...not so much.  It was flat and was just kind of eh.  It's a blend of 85% Syrah and 15% Garnacha.  I wanted to start throwing some blends in the mix since usually they are pretty good.  I'm thinking maybe I'm just not a syrah fan, but you never know.  I'm not giving up on them.  

Great Balls of...Cake

After my family and I made 250 cake balls for my wedding reception last year, it has taken me this long to want to even look at one again.  My friend Montana was hosting and I told her I'd do the dessert.  She had a Mexican themed menu, so for some reason the idea of doing key lime pie and pina colada cake balls popped in my head.  I forgot how much work these little suckers are!  However, they were a huge hit and since it was just a bite of cake, no one turned them down.  If you plan on making these, read all the way through the directions so you can make sure you have everything you need.  With cake balls, the sky is limit.  Get creative!

Pina Colada Cake Balls
I started out with baking just a normal white cake from a mix, letting it cool, and then cutting off any crusty edges. Then, crumbled the cooled cake in a bowl and add some chopped pineapple and enough pina colada mix to get the mixture to stick together.  I then rolled the balls in graham cracker crumbs and put them in the freezer to set up.  While they were freezing, I put some unsweetened coconut flakes and finely chopped almonds in a skillet with sugar and let it caramelized.  Once it had browned enough and the sugar was melted, I put the mixture on parchment paper to cool.  Once cooled, I broke it up with a knife and mallet to make a crunch.  After about an hour in the freezer, I took the balls out, dipped them in almond bark (that I had already melted in a double boiler) and topped with a little crunch while they were still tacky. The crunch is a great compliment to the smooth, truffle like cake mixture in the middle.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Need a reason to throw a party?

I do!  After coming across Sweet Lulu, I need a reason to use their amazingly cute party supplies.  Maybe I can throw a "just because" party?  This is definitely a bookmark worthy site.  Here are some of my favorites:

How cute are these push pop containers?  I love the idea of stacked cakes.  You can even buy the lucite holder too.
These candles would make any plain Jane cupcake a little brighter

These containers are so pretty.  I love the color.  They would liven up any picnic buffet.  That turquoise is a great compliment to any summer fruit (and my personal favorite color). 
A milk and cookies display makes for a great dessert table.  These milk glasses come in sets of 12 and the striped straws (also available) give them a true retro feel.

I love perfectly round balloons.  They really look clean and professional.  Just using one on each each of buffet table tie it all together.  The colors that they have available are great too for any season.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Feelin HOT, HOT, HOT

One of the benefits of all these discount websites like Groupon, Urban Dealight, and DealSwarm is that you can try out new classes, restaurants, etc without paying a ton of money for something you may not like.  I've been dying to try bikram yoga but it is pretty pricey.  Urban Dealight had a 6 class deal for $20 at YogaGroove.  Pretty hard to pass up and it is really close to my office.  What's even better is that they offer a 5:30pm class which gives me enough time to get there, change my clothes, and get to a spot.  So, Friday after work, I loaded up my mat, beach towel, and water bottle and headed into what I now refer to as a human oven.  Oh my gosh.  For all of you fellow Texans (especially this summer), image walking outside in the middle the afternoon on a day when it's 105 degrees with no wind.  You know the feeling.  Now imagine doing a workout in that.  I started sweating before class even started.  I was a little distracted by the human rubber band working out next to me.  From lifting weights over the years, I have lost some of my flexibility but thought I was still doing okay.  I think the one that got me was when they told us to put one leg on top of the other and then curl your foot around to hook onto the opposite leg (all while twisting your arms into a pretzel too).  I'll admit, it was an awesome workout and 90 minutes flew by.  I felt completely loose (and somewhat dehydrated).  The next day, however, was a different story.  You see, when you are working out in a room that is 105 degrees and sweating more than you have ever sweated in your life, your muscles and tendons are nice and loose.  Not so much the next day.  The tendons in the backs of my knees of all places felt like I needed to cut them in order to give a little.  Just goes to show that I have a lot of room for improvement in the bendy category.  Honestly, I can't wait to go back this week.  So take advantage of all the great deals in your city to try something new.  You never know what you might discover.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Don't Diss The Swiss

Do you love oatmeal but think it is too hot to eat in the summer?  Give Swiss Muesli a try.  Even if you hate oatmeal (hmm hmm, Mom), this may be a way to eat your whole oats.  It is so easy and such a great breakfast when it's steamy outside.  With the way I make it, it is loaded with all kinds of good-for-you goodness.  (Keep in mind I'm trying to be better about measuring and not eyeing things)

Swiss Muesli
1 cup-ish of old fashioned dry oatmeal (I really need to make this again and measure the oats)
1- 24 oz container of Greek yogurt (I like Greek God brand personally, 0% fat)
1-2 tbsp of ground flax seed
Toppings and mix-in suggestions:
Agave nectar (kind of a must, Greek yogurt is pretty tart if you aren't used to it)
Chopped green apple (great for texture)
Fresh berries
Chopped raw almonds
Chopped dried apricots
Dried or fresh cherries (yum, and a great antioxidant)

CORRECTION FROM MY SMART ALEC BROTHER: It is not muesli unless it contains citrus.  Apparently, people add a splash of lemon juice and my Aunt Jane uses a bit of OJ.  This would actually help the greek yogurt thin out a bit and add a little more zip!  Thanks for the tip Matthew...

Mix the dry oats, flax seed, and yogurt together until combined.  It will look a little on the yogurt-y side (don't you love my technical terms?).  If it is really soupy, add a little more oats.  Keep in mind, this will sit overnight and the oats soak up a ton of yogurt.  I was amazed the first time I tried this at how much yogurt I had to keep adding.  Once combined, cover and refrigerate overnight.  The next morning, dish out about a half a cup per serving.  It is pretty thick so if you feel like you need it to thin a little, add some more yogurt or a bit of warm water.  I just mashed some fresh raspberries and mixed them and topped it off with a little agave nectar and whole blueberries.  It looked very patriotic.
I almost forgot to snap a picture before it was gone this morning.  Food goes fast at our table!

This is such a great breakfast (especially if you have a side of egg whites or whole eggs).  It is loaded with clean protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants from the toppings, and calcium.  The whole oats are great source of fiber too.  Can't ask for much more than that.
I hope you all have a great weekend.  Ruby and Bruiser have a play date with another Frenchie tomorrow. Lots of snorts and toots to come!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Need Some New Recipes?

I'm always looking for new resources with healthy recipes.  My friend Paige introduced me to SkinnyTaste.  They are great recipes that have been adapted to follow Weight Watchers guidelines.  Even if you don't do Weight Watchers, you can be sure that they are healthy and pretty low in sugar, fat, and salt.  From what I can tell, they really aren't that complicated either.  This week, I'm trying Broiled Tilapia with Thai Coconut Curry Sauce, Greek Turkey Meatballs, and Skinny Chicken Tikka Masala (it will be a very ethnic week!). 

It's Like Butta...Well Kind Of

Food allergies among children and adults are becoming an increasing frustration.  Gluten free, wheat free, lactose intolerant, dairy free, can you keep up?  Even more frustrating, what do you cook? If you have found that you have a dairy allergy, but love to bake, here is an alternative.   Coconut butter.  I used to hate coconut with a passion and I think it was because all I had ever had was sweetened coconut flakes...yuck.  Those little sugar doused flakes kept me away from coconut for years, then I had the real stuff.  What a difference.  So, when I heard about coconut being used as a butter substitute, I was all for it.  I don't have a dairy allergy, but a raw alternative full of the good fats is hard to beat. You can buy coconut butter at natural grocers or in the raw/organic section of your supermarket, but why pay $10 a jar when you can make it at home for about a third of the cost?  All you have to do it buy a bag of unsweetened coconut flakes (I used Bob's Red Mill) and put them in the blender until they are smooth.  It takes about ten minutes of blending and scraping down the sides to get it all done.  Then, pour the mixture into a shallow mason jar (the smaller the jar, the easier it is to get it all out when you are using it) and secure with a lid.  You can stick it in the pantry or in the fridge.  It will solidify at room temperature, so if you find it difficult to get out, just nuke it in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  In Tosca Reno's The Eat Clean Diet Cookbook 2, she uses quite a bit of coconut butter, especially in baking.  Clay loves banana bread, so I gave this one a try.  The results were great.  I actually made them into muffins since I have a bad habit of not baking the inside of thick breads enough without burning the outside.  Like I've said before, I'm not a baker. 

Super Moist Banana Walnut Bread
1/4 cu + 1 tsp of raw coconut butter, divided
1 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbsp ground flaxseed
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cu organic raw turbinado sugar
2 tbsp unsulfured blackstrap molasses
1/2 cu low fat or soy milk
3 large very ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cu chopped unsalted walnuts

1.  Place oven rack in lower third of oven and reheat to 350F.  Grease a 5x9" loaf pan with 1/2 tsp of coconut butter
2.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, flaxseed, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  In another bowl, use an electric mixer to combine remaining coconut butter with sugar and molasses on medium-high speed while mixture resembles course grains of wet sand.  Stop mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape sides and bottom of the bowl, and then mix for a few more seconds to ensure that all the ingredients get thoroughly combined.  Add milk and mix on low until just combined.  Remove bowl from mixing stand, and fold in bananas and walnuts until combined. 
3.  Scrape batter into greased baking pan and place in oven to bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 55-60 minutes.  Remove and let cool slightly before unmolding from pan.  Serve warm or let finish cooling on rack.  Can be stored for two days at room temperature with a tea towel draped over the top and then in the fridge for an additional three days (like it would last that long in my house).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Her Face Says It All

It has been ridiculously hot this summer in Texas.  We did get a break with a rain storm last night so the temp is at least bearable today.  We went 31 days straight without any measurable rain. Our grass is dying, our plants are on their last leg and poor Ruby looks like this all the time. 

She is not happy about the heat and is not a fan of playing in the hose like Bruiser.  She's become noctural, sleeps all day and wants to play all night. 

Wino Wednesday

Not only is it Wino Wednesday, this post is on time!  This week's pick came from the recommendation of the employees at Twin Liquors.  I love Twins, they have such a great inventory as well as employees that actually know what they are talking about have good suggestions.  I usually don't go for Merlots, but I figure through this experiment, I'm bound to find a few that I like enough to buy again.  I decided to try The Velvet Devil Merlot Washington 2009.  Hands down this gets a big thumbs up.  It was smooth, not woody at all, and only about $12 a bottle.  This one goes down as a keeper for sure.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not Too Bad Having a Chef in the Fam

As mentioned before, my brother is currently in culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu here in Austin.  He is doing amazing and I'm in awe every time he cooks.  Needless to say, family gatherings are quite a bit fancier than they used to be.  For Father's Day, we loaded up the pups and went to my mom's house to have dinner with the family.  Matthew prepared Coq au Vin (chicken braised in wine) over homemade pappardelle and served with green peas in fresh tarragon and butter.  We had my roasted tomato bruschetta with ricotta for a starter, a pear and bleu cheese salad, and peach cobbler for dessert.  Needless to say, no supper for me last night, I was still stuffed! 

The recipe for this bruschetta can be found here.  It is so easy and always a big hit.

Matthew had lots of four legged company in the kitchen once the smell of roasting chicken wafted through the house

Rolling out and hand cutting the pappardelle

The chicken with the spices, wine, carrots, celery, and onion smelled so good.  Once the chicken was done, the liquid was strained and reduced as the sauce.  On a side note, can you believe this big pot pictured below was only $40?!  Matthew took my mom to Ace Restaurant Supply and what a goldmine it turned out to be. There is one of these only about 15 from my house.  Can you guess where I'll be next weekend?

Who knew what a difference a little frest tarragon and butter would make to peas?  Loved them.
Homemade noodles are pretty hard to beat.  These were perfect.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Get Me To The Church on Time

27. Be more active in my church-this one is tough since we live pretty far but I'll be back on board to paint VBS murals this coming year now that a wedding is out of the way

#27 on the list is to be more active in church.  I can't sing, I don't play an instrument, but I can paint and I can cook.  Last year I took a break from VBS banners since it was right after my wedding, but this year I was back at it.  I'm not sure how it happens, but it ALWAYS sneaks up on me.  No matter how prepared I think I am, all of a sudden I'll see in the bulletin that VBS is the next week.  This year was no exception.  So, I spent almost every night last week painting until 11 at night and all morning Saturday.  I was in such a rush to get it to the church on time that I used a blowdryer to finish drying some of thick spots.  Just in the nick of time, it was done and headed to church.  For real, next year I'm starting sooner so I can do more than one and add some 3D effects with the poster paper. 

My breakfast table looked like this all last week.  It sure was nice to get that area all cleaned up again.  I'm still amazed that the pups didn't walk through the wet paint!

The finished banner...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake

I forgot to post pictures of the final butterfly cake.  MUCH better than the trial run.  I still think it would be fun to take a cake decorating class.  I'd like to learn how to use and manipulate modeling chocolate.  I love it when cupcakes are topped with cute little what nots. 
First off, when you have been in three weddings and hosted a baby shower within a year, decorations are not hard to come by.  I had kept the butterfly cutouts from Lily's baby shower (remember this post?)and we used them again to decorate the chinese lanterns (leftover from Tressa's wedding).  They turned out great and are now hanging in Lily's playroom.  Such a simple project that makes for a big impact.

I also kept my grass covered boxes from my wedding that were part of Clay's golf themed groom's table.  Tressa used them as props for the cupcakes (also topped with more of the cutouts). 

For the flowers, I use different colors of stock (which were a little puny because of the heat), sunflowers, and billy balls (a fav from my own wedding)  The colors looked great

Butterfly cake #2 turned out much better than the first.  Lots of piping, but it looks pretty cute.  From the pictures, seems like Lily thought it tasted pretty great too! 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Maybe I Should Call it Wine Thursday...

I missed it again.  Wednesday came and went with no wine post.  However, we do have a new wine on tap at the Ellis household.  This time we went for Black Box Cabernet Sauvnigon.  This one was a bit more than the first but still a great deal at $24.99 for a box that holds four bottles.  I started thinking about it as I poured my glass from the spout last night.  My family went a vineyard in New Braunfels, TX a few years back and was told that when aerating your wine, all you have to do is pour it "violently" to get the same effect as using a fancy carafe.  When the wine comes out of a box wine spout, it comes out pretty fast and violent.  I think it helps aerate as you pour.  Just chalk that up to another benefit of the box...

If you crave margaritas, but hate the calories and sugar they pack on, try this skinny margarita cocktail recipe from 
1/2 cup of seltzer water
1 oz tequila
1 oz triple sec
1/8 cup of fresh lime juice
1 tsp of agave nectar
This will save you about 160 calories compared to a margarita made with pre made mix.  Not too shabby.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Under Construction

This blog needs a makeover.  The pink and black forks were cute, but I'm over it.  So, I'm sure I'll change my mind...a lot.  If you click on my page and everything seems out of whack, just try again later.  I have a feeling this blog will get about ten wardrobe changes before I make a final decision. 
I can't believe today is already Friday.  This week has flown by!  Lily's birthday party is tomorrow so tonight is filled with cake baking and flower arranging.  I went to the flower market today and got my supplies.  I also stopped my Michaels yesterday to grab some icing tint so that my 2nd attempt at the butterfly cake comes out much better than the first.  I still don't plan on being OCD about it since Lily is just going to tear it apart.  Lots of pictures to follow...

p.s. I FINALLY figured out how to get those pesky black outlines around my pictures to come off.  I'm sure all of you bloggers are thinking DUH, but it was just one of those little things that I guess I kept skipping.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Wino Wednesday...A Day Late

I meant to post this last night and got too busy before I crashed.  Are you in a wine rut?  Do you tend to buy the same wine all the time because you know what is good and you're petrified of getting something that you can't even choke down?  Well, I'm here to help.  I'm stepping out of the box (but not the wine box as previously posted here) and pledge to try a new wine each week.  Clay and I always bought basically the same three wines.  They're all good, but I know there is so much more to try.  I try not to be swayed by pretty labels and quirky names and I don't pay attention to the "experts" ratings.  I'm going off trial and error.  I'll eventually use this as my little go to guide for wine in the future.  
This week's try is Rare Find Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.  It didn't look too like it was trying to hard to get my attention but did get a good rating from the in store wine lady.  I do trust her.  She works the wine the and cheese sections in our local H-E-B (our chain of grocery stores) and has given me stellar recommendations before.  This one did not disappoint.  Sometimes cabs tend to be too sweet and flat.  This one almost tasted like a borderline merlot.  It was a little heavier and had a woodier taste but didn't leave you feeling like you drank pureed bark.  I loved it!  And at the sensible price of about $10/bottle, this one is definite keeper.
Survey says: KEEP

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Dirty Little Secret

We all have one.  That closet in the house that somehow becomes the catch all dump zone.  Somehow, my craft room closet became mine.  Stuff got piled in there like crazy and it was actually pretty scary that I would get lost in an avalanche of fabric one of these days.  So, today I faced it head on.  I pulled out everything and spread it across my room.  I have no idea how so much stuff can fit in a small walk in closet.  Holy cow.  I can't believe I'm even posting this picture.
Here is what came out:

All that from this little closet:

After everything is put back that I actually need (and a big garbage bag later)

And my bookshelf on the left wall inside.  Now I can finally see what I have!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Smash Cake

I didn't know there was a term, but apparently, baby cakes are now referred to as smash cakes.  It makes sense, I'll they do is pretty much put their face in it.  Lily Jane turns 1 this month and her party is next Saturday.  Tressa came over so we could do some trial runs for the party.  Her theme is butterflies and Tressa found a butterfly cake pan at the bake shop nearby.  I saw an idea on Hostess with the Mostess to split the batter into four and color each bowl differently.  I am not a fan of food coloring, but it only took a few drops.  You then put a scoop of each color in the bowl until all the batter is used.  If you swirl or layer, it doesn't matter, the colors won't bleed into each other.  Then, you bake it like normal.  When they tear into the cake, there a ton of colors that come out.  Here is the pic from the Hostess with the Mostess blog:

Here is my batter, we stuck with pastels

Lily was pretty entertained with the pups keeping watch under her for the occasional crumb
Looks like Lily could have done this part.  The colors were really bright once it baked.

So this isn't the prettiest cake, it is just going to be used as a smash cake in her 1 yr pictures.  I think I need to do something a bit better for the party cake.  I think if I pipe the whole thing, it won't look like a five year old made it!

I couldn't believe she had never had a popsicle before!  Well, thank goodness this Fairy Godmother had some in the freezer.  She wasn't too sure about it at first but loved it after a few tries.

Friday, June 3, 2011

#11 off the list

11.  Plant and (here's the kicker) maintain an herb garden.  I waste so much money on buying fresh herbs!
Another one bites the dust.  #11 is done!  I don't have a huge yard, so we improvised with little window planters that Clay attached to the wrought iron railing on the back porch.  I had to line it with some weed control fabric because the mossy stuff that they come with don't hold water at all.  I actually planted this about two months ago and since it is still alive, I can say that it has not only been planted but maintained.  I'll plant all day, I just have a hard time keeping it looking good.  We are battling brutal heat here in Texas.  We've been in the 100s for awhile now and summer has barely started.  Between energy zapping heat and no rain, it is quite the project to keep all all plants alive at all.  I hope we catch a break soon.

Here is my parsley, dill, basil, and sage (which is growing like crazy)

This one has my lavender, chives, tarragon, and fennel

And look what a found when I got home, my lavender bloomed!  What a pretty color purple