D is for Delegate… and Dessert

I’ve learned one of the keys to actually enjoying the party that you’re hosting is to delegate tasks. That’s exactly what my mother did when she invited the whole crew over for Easter. We each brought something. And, hey, we were were all happy to help and contribute! So next time you host and your guests ask how they can help, take them up on their offer!

20140421-104135.jpgSo my assignment was dessert. I had three ideas. 1.) a bunny cake 2.) nests 3.) lemon thyme cake

20140421-104440.jpgPre-heat your oven, and get started on your white cake batter. Confession: I use a box mix. Just make one round pan of white cake. When completely cooled, cut in half like so.

20140421-104600.jpg“Glue” the halves together with white frosting. Again, I confess to using the jarred kind from the grocer’s baking aisle. Set flat side of semi-circle on a platter. Cut a divot on the round top for a “bunny head.” Frost and cover with shredded coconut. I added white paper ears and a pink jelly bean for my bunny’s nose.

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20140421-105107.jpgThe next dessert is a classic! You’ll need a handful of chocolate chips– I use milk chocolate– and a handful of butterscotch chips. Melt in two different bowls, with a double-boiler or by microwave. Stir to smooth. Then sprinkle in some
Chinese chow mein noodles in each bowl, enough to where each noodle is thinly covered by the ooey-gooey stuff. Spoon into tiny “nests” that will fit into an egg carton. Place 3 jelly beans on top, so the treats look like bird nests. Present in an egg carton.

20140421-105959.jpgFinally, I thought fresh, and combined springtime lemon and thyme for a light bundt cake.

20140421-110110.jpgThe dessert table was a hit, along with the beautiful appetizer spread the other family members helped create. See! Delegating takes a little pressure off the host, and provides a lot fun and creativity for the guests.

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“Egg”cited for Spring

Happy Easter Weekend to you! It’s a wonderful time to brighten up your home, as you open it to family and friends this weekend.

Start with EGGS– all kinds, shapes, sizes, colors. And don’t spend a lot of money! These glitter eggs are from Target. They’re plastic that can be filled and used for hunts, and priced under $10.

20140418-121335.jpgDo you recognize the black-and-white check bowl? Good! My philosophy is to own key entertaining/decorating pieces (this one is Mackenzie Childs) and switch out the filling to make them feel new from time to time.

20140418-121557.jpgOn this Easter weekend, let me give you a little background on me. I grew up in San Antonio, and every year at this time the entire city celebrates Fiesta. It’s a two-week party that celebrates the Hispanic and other cultures that collide in San Antonio, filled with oyster bakes, river parades, a coronation for the Queen and her Court, music and CASCARONES (translation: confetti-filled eggs that are to be broken on the heads of your loved ones–no kidding!). So I decorate with these colorful confetti poppers every April, even though I now call Austin home. If you have an H-E-B near you, grab a carton or two or three ($1.99 each). Cheap, unique and a great story.

20140418-122102.jpgI filled a hurricane with a couple dozen cascarones, nestled on a bed of paper Easter grass for height.

20140418-122230.jpgDon’t forget nests! Springtime is all about new life. I found these at Michael’s for less than $8. I placed speckled plastic eggs inside them, and positioned on a kitchen window sill. My mother has all different kinds, shapes and sizes of nests around her home at this time of year. It’s so inviting and springy.

How do you decorate with springtime eggs? Please share here!

Repurpose Those Leftovers!

Got more Corned Beef & Cabbage than you know what to do with? Hope you packed up and refrigerated your leftovers, because lunch is solved!

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-Make a bed of spinach leaves and shredded raw cabbage

-Toss in some cherry tomatoes, halved

-Cut Swiss cheese slices into bite-sized pieces and throw them in the salad

-Top with cold leftover shredded corned beef. Go ahead, add cold potatoes, too, if you’d like.

-Drizzle with dressing of choice. I used Ranch (I’m a Texas girl, y’all). Or mix your own using light mayo and horseradish or spicy mustard. Both go great with corned beef.

Enjoy the second round! Share your leftover ideas below, I’d love to hear from you.

Trying My Luck

This St. Patrick’s Day, I’m doing it. I’m tackling the traditional Irish meal my mom had on the stove every March 17th while growing up. I’m sharing her recipe, and I was surprised to find it’s pretty easy.

20140317-175125.jpgHere’s what you need:

-a corned beef kit you get in your grocer’s meat case. It will be a wrapped brisket with a seasoning packet. Trust me, use this kit. It’s my mom’s secret shortcut.

-potatoes, I’m using fingerling

-carrots

-head of cabbage

-rye bread

20140317-201425.jpgPut the meat in a large pot. Rub with the seasoning included in the pot. Cover with water, and bring to a boil. Then simmer for 3 hours (for a 3 lb. piece of meat).

Prep your veggies, and set aside. We’ll add those in a couple hours.

20140317-201615.jpgBecause now, we’re making DESSERT! Bailey’s Pound Cake. When adding this much butter, I have to credit no one else but Paula Deen. This is her recipe, and the first time I’ve tried it. Here we go!

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Bailey’s Pound Cake:

Take 3 sticks of softened butter and cream with 3 cups of brown sugar (mix it in your mixer on medium). Add 5 eggs, one by one, while continuing to mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, combine 3 cups of flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp baking powder. In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream, and 2/3 cup milk. Slowly combine all bowls in mixer, to make your batter.

20140317-180331.jpgPour batter in a greased bundt pan. Bake at 325-degrees for 1 hour, 20 minutes. Get ready. You’re house will smell divine!

Now go do something- walk the dog, do house work, cross off your to-do list. Whatever it is, this meal is great because your corned beef is simmering and your cake is in the oven, leaving you, well, free to do something else.

20140317-181303.jpgAn hour and twenty minutes later, your house smells of fresh-baked buttery cake. Take the cake out, and cool. I transferred to a plate to allow to cool completely. Mix your glaze: 3 tbsp of Bailey’s and 2 cups of sugar. Drizzle on top. Cheers, y’all. After having a sliver, I’ve gotta say Paula’s done good with this recipe. I’m “lucky” to have stumbled upon this one.

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All right, time to add the veggies to your corned beef (it’s 2 hours into cooking time). I like my veggies crispy, so I wait to add them until the end. Let simmer one more hour. And take a look at the tenderness of this beef!

20140317-195230.jpgServe up with cabbage, fingerling potatoes and carrots from the pot. Also, squeeze some spicy mustard on the side and serve with rye bread.

20140317-195430.jpgHappy St. Paddy’s, everyone! Hope you’re lucky enough to share a meal, or a beer, or maybe some Bailey’s cake!!, with someone you love tonight.

South By Houseguest

SXSW is in full swing here in Austin, as well as the latter end of Spring Break. If you’re playing host to a houseguest or two, you’re not alone. Put on your best “show” with these tips I use in my own guest room.

20140313-174615.jpgProvide a SXSW Survival Kit:

-bottled water
-pain reliever
-“hair of the dog” supplies, i.e. tiny Tito’s vodka bottles and V8 juice
-individual/packable snacks
-sunscreen
-house key (for when your guest returns after the music stops and the bars close)

20140313-175120.jpgDon’t make your guest hunt for necessities. (Lord knows no one needs to be going through my drawers and cabinets) Arrange soaps, shampoo, freshly-washed towels and washcloths, a blow drier and an extra roll of TP in your guest’s bathroom.

And speaking of freshly-washed– change the sheets BEFORE your guest arrives. Don’t let your houseguest sleep in the musty sheets you made the bed with the last time you had people stay over. Switch them with Bounty-fresh ones. They’ll appreciate that.

Provide a candle and matches. Even better, put out a small arrangement of fresh flowers. This brightens the room, and masks the “no one ever comes in this room, ever” smell.

Lastly: Go the extra mile.

20140313-175548.jpgOn your guest’s bed stand, put out a…

-coaster
-small dish for jewelry, watch, glasses
-directions on how to operate your TV (trust me, these come in handy!)

Of course, these tips don’t just apply to SXSW guests, but anytime family and friends stay over. Think about those extra comforts you have at home, and SHARE them! You’ll be the host with the most.

Oscar Worthy

Time to “put on a show” for the Academy Awards this Sunday! This is the kind of party you can host for girlfriends, your couple friends, even families with kids. Maybe you ask your guests to dress up, roll out a red carpet and set up a photo booth. Consider setting friendly bets or offering prizes for Best Picture, Actress and Actor. Really, the sky’s the limit when it comes to hosting an Oscar Party, which is perfect since your friends will now be counting on YOU to host this fun night annually! Just you wait.

20140225-213735.jpgSo here are a few ideas for your Oscar Party spread. I suggest setting your coffee table, or a bar cart, in your living room so it’s accessible during the awards show. I rolled out glitter red tulle ($3.99, Michael’s) across my coffee table to give a glitzy “red carpet” look. As you know, I LOVE my black and white check, which is perfect for this black-tie themed party. So I pulled out those platters and champagne bucket. I filled one of my favorite pieces with popcorn.

20140225-214129.jpgGo ahead, POP your own. It’s 89-cents a bag, and makes your home smell like the movies. Pick out your favorite nostalgic movie candies– ours are Junior Mints, Red Vines/Twizzlers, Hot Tamales and Sour Patch Kids. I poured the snackable candies in a variety of champagne glasses and arranged on a silver platter. Speaking of film nostalgia, dig out your favorite dvd’s and stack ’em up on your spread. Do you see mine?!?!

20140225-214510.jpgCheck out the shrimp cocktail apps, simply served in tall shot glasses. If you don’t have a dozen shot glasses in your party cabinet, go ahead and invest. Mine were $5.99 for 6 at Garden Ridge, and I entertain with them all the time. And speaking of…

Anyone thirsty?

20140225-215222.jpgMini-bubbly bottles are the way to go, ($10/set of 4). Pick out a sheet of festive paper, (59-cents, Michael’s), and cover the champagne label. I used Scotch tape to secure. I also printed out a cute saying to add to my custom label. Take some of the red tulle–used for your table scape– and tie on a whimsical black and white paper straw. Make several of these for your guests. They’re fun and inexpensive.

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20140225-221629.jpgAnd finally, let’s make some Oscar-themed cupcakes. You know I usually let a bakery do my desserts, but I attempted these popcorn-looking bites myself. Start with red and white striped cupcake cups, ($1.50, Michael’s). They look like popcorn bags! Mix up your favorite cake recipe– feel free to use a box mix. I won’t tell.

20140225-222050.jpgBake and cool. Frost generously with white icing. Here’s why: we’re going to cover with mini-marshmallows for a popcorn kernel effect.

20140225-222320.jpgNow for the “butter” we all love on our p-o-p. Pour a small amount of water in a bowl. Add a few drops of yellow food coloring.

20140225-223258.jpgGently spoon the colored water on the marshmallow-topped cupcakes and allow to dry.

20140225-223324.jpg“It’s Showtime!” The Oscars are this Sunday, show your friends a fun and creative time! And it’s not too late to share your Oscar worthy ideas here:

Overpriced and Overrated: Lose the Reservation

Valentine’s Day is Friday, and folks, “It’s Showtime.” This is the day where husbands, boyfriends, and sweethearts everywhere will do what they can to make their loved one feel, well, loved. Here’s the deal: it doesn’t take a lot of money to be thoughtful. And you don’t have to make cliche reservations at a romantic hot spot of a restaurant (meaning silly prices, and waitstaff rushing you out to get the next seating in.) Just look at what I’ve discovered to be the best, most thoughtful–and most affordable–Valentine’s Day date:

20140212-140233.jpg Ta-Da! If you can tell me where you can eat filet mignon, a wedge salad and hand-made dessert–for two– in a quiet, private, candlelit setting for $40, I’LL cook you dinner! (p.s. the going rate for one filet alone in a fine restaurant is $36-plus.) Are you in? Let’s get started.

20140212-140828.jpgSet your table in a spot in the house where it’s quiet. Got a fireplace? Perfect– light a fire. I took two empty bottles of wine that I’ve kept–one from our mortgage broker from when we bought our first home and the other is a bottle we drank on Christmas–and stuck red candlesticks in them. Voila! Romantic candle light. AND those bottles mean something to us, adding to the romance factor. I took out our fine china and crystal champagne glasses. Husbands: if you can locate and put these out in your home, you’ll score extra points.

20140212-141441.jpgAlright, let’s get dessert underway and outta the way. Chocolate Hand-Dipped Strawberries. Easy.

Here’s what you need:
Carton of Strawberries
Melting Chocolate
Melting White Chocolate
Wax Paper

Lay out the wax paper on the kitchen counter, while you follow the melting directions on the chocolate packages.
Simply hold the berries by the stem and dip, then lay to dry on wax paper. Here, I dipped into traditional chocolate first, let dry, then “threw” white chocolate on top with a fork. See above. I even took some pretzel rods I had in the pantry and dipped those as well. They are absolutely gorgeous, and took very little effort. Let’s put these out on display, shall we?

20140212-141952.jpgI would love to come home to this set-up on Valentine’s Day, with a fire crackling in the background. I promise your sweetie would, too.

20140212-142103.jpgGet back into the kitchen, before your honey comes over/home! Quick quick. Quarter a head of iceberg lettuce. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. You’ll need a handful of fresh blue cheese and blue cheese salad dressing. And the piece de resistance is the homemade bacon crumbles–I’m pictured here dicing up freshly-fried strips of bacon in my Cuisinart. Assemble your Wedge Salads on two plates. Set aside, as you season your filets. Go ahead, splurge and go for the meat from your grocer’s butcher. It’s a special occasion. Throw on a hot grill — 7-8 minutes per side or so. When I plated up the meat, I topped with an extra strip of bacon. Indulge!

20140212-143032.jpgThe great thing about hosting a date night like this, is it’s intimate. There’s no waiting in abnormally busy and loud restaurants, with the next table over just inches away. It’s also original, thoughtful and generous. Even though it cost you a fraction of what you would’ve spent going out.

20140212-143934.jpgFinally, it’s romantic. Who can say no to a homemade candlelight dinner for two? And trust me, this meal is fool-proof. I’d love to hear how YOUR date night goes. Be sure to leave your stories here: