Archived entries for event planning

Elmo Cupcakes!

Elmo is toddler crack.  I’ve never been the biggest fan.  I find his high pitched baby talk annoying of enough but add to that his way of always referring to himself in the 3rd person, and I just want to punch him in his red furry face.  HOWEVER, my daughter, Thora, cannot get enough of him.  I tried, and failed to keep her away from him.  But its pointless.  She LOOOOVES ELMO!  Ok, fine.  At least Elmo is not as bad as Baby Bear.

Saturday was Thora’s second birthday and I decided to make her supremely happy by combining two of her favorite things: cupcakes and Elmo!  I’m not going to take credit for this idea (its been done many times before) but it was a fun project, so I thought I would share my how-to. Everything about these cupcakes are red, from the red velvet cupcakes, to the red royal icing and the red cupcake holders.  Get ready to have red hands for the rest of the week.

Elmo Cupcakes
makes 32

Red Velvet Cupcakes:

  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 (1 ounce) red Food Color
  • 2 tsp vanilla

 Royal Icing

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar (optional)
  • 1 ounce red dye for icing

Elmo decorations

  • small marshmallows for eyes
  • black food color or cake gel for eyes
  • orange peanut m&ms for nose
  • oreos for mouth
  • Red food color for icing
  • pastry bag and large star tip

To make the cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix dry ingredients and set aside.  Using an electric hand or stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together.  Add eggs one at a time into mixture, beating after each one.  Mix red food dye into milk.  Add milk, sour cream and vanilla, beat into mixture.  Gradually add dry ingredients, beat until mixed.

Place red cupcake holders into pans.  Fill cupcake holders 2/3 way full.  (An ice cream scoop works well for this.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes until cupcakes test done.  Allow to cool on wire rack.

Make Royal Icing

Beat egg whites until firm peaks form; about 5 minutes.

Add sugar, tartar and lemon.  Beat.  We want a firm frosting.  You may want to add more sugar or egg white to get the right consistency.  Add red dye to get the color desired.  I used the frosting dye because it is more like a gel and will not add extra moisture to the frosting.  If you are using the liquid dye, you will need extra sugar to make up for the added moisture.  Keep covered until needed.

Assemble Facial Elements

Eyes: Separate a small amount of frosting into a small bowl.  Add black dye and mix.  Apply a small dot of black frosting to the center of marshmallows to create the eye.

Noses: Separate out orange peanut m&ms and set aside.

Mouth: Spin off tops and bottoms of Oreos. Remove cream filling.  Cut mouths in half.  I actually cut them a bit smaller and discarded the excess.

Assemble Cupcakes

Spread a bit of frosting on top of each cupcake as a base layer.  Dip eyes, nose and mouth in frosting and place onto cupcake.

Spoon red frosting into pastry bag with the large star attachment and pipe onto cupcake around facial elements.  Pull away at sides to accentuate Elmo furry face.

DONE!  Now let your kiddos enjoy stuffing their faces with Elmo’s face!

The. Best. Cheesecake. Ever.

It is my pet peeve when periods are placed after each word to enforce the meaning. However, there is no other way for me to seriously communicate the deliciousness of this recipe then stooping to this grammatical device. The decadence of this lusciously fluffy cheesecake is making me do things I don’t normally do!

Image courtesy of Flickr User katewing

My sister’s mother-in-law, Trish (does that make her my mother-in-law once removed?) made this for a baby shower, and we all agreed it was the best cheesecake we ever had. And we’re pretty well versed in cheesecake. So I begged the recipe off her and here it is.

This cheesecake is the most fluffy, decadent and flavorful of any cheesecake I have ever had. Ever. If you don’t believe me, try it for yourself.

Trish’s Tall and Creamy Cheesecake
Serves 12 Prep time: 20 min  Inactive Time: 5 hours

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/3 c. lime juice
  • 1 (8 oz.) container sour cream, at room temperature
  • Chilled fruit topping

Preheat oven to 300ºF. Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar and butter in small bowl.  Press firmly into bottom and up the sides of ungreased 9-inch spring form pan.  Optional: Line bottom of pan with parchment paper before putting in crust.

Beat/whip cream cheese in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Add eggs and lime juice; mix well. Pour into prepared pan.

BAKE 60-70 minutes or until center is set. Remove from oven; top with sour cream. Bake an additional 5 minutes. Cool 1 hour. Chill at least 4 hours. Garnish with pie filling, if desired.

Party Pleaser: Pomegranate Punch

Want to turn your regular old hum drum party into the most sophisticated soiree of the day? Well, its easy. Here’s our top 1 ways to get your party popping!

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Brooklyn Farmhouse


There, that was easy. Almost as easy as making this delicious punch which pairs delicious and healthy pomegrante juice with a fresh and tasty infusion of simple syrup steeped in mint and fresh ginger. Delish! Here’s the how-to.

Pomegranate Punch
Serves about 12

1 1/2 c. sugar
1 1/2 c. water
12 slices peeled fresh ginger (about 1/8 inch thick)
2 1/4 c. fresh mint
6 c. pomegranate juice
3/4 c. apricot nectar
2 1/2 c. seltzer
Garnish: fresh mint
Optional: Alcohol- vodka or champagne

Make simple syrup:  Bring sugar, water, and ginger to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add mint. Let stand for 30 minutes. Strain. Let cool.

Assemble punch: Stir together mint syrup, juice, and nectar in an ice-filled punch bowl. Add seltzer. Garnish with mint and ice.

Optional: Add alcohol. As much as you want.  Be warned though! This punch is sooo damn tasty, it hides the taste of alcohol very well. I mean VERY WELL. You can get very bedrunken. Just warning you. Ok, on to the hints.

Hint: Make a decorative ice ring! The night before your party, take a decorative bunt or coffee cake pan and fill with water.  Allow to freeze until a bit slushy, 1 hour or so depending on the amount of your water.  Put a few mint leaves or pomegranate seeds into the slush to suspend in ice.

A Guide To Thanksgiving Planning

Its Thanksgiving time! As you could expect, this is one of our favorite holidays. Its a day of eating until you’re sick and then going to sleep on the living room floor. To share the method to my madness, I thought I would share a sample menu and schedule with you so you can see an example of how to best manage your time. Lets get cooking!

Sample Thanksgiving Menu for 10

Monday and Tuesday:

  • shopping
  • tidy house


  • Put poultry into brine
  • pumpkin soup
  • cranberry sauce
  • pecan pie
  • roast sweet potatoes for spoon bread
  • slice onions for casserole
  • set table

Thursday, Turkey Day:

  • assemble stuffing
  • prep poultry to roast
  • assemble casseroles (bean and onion)
  • get poultry in oven
  • bake stuffing
  • assemble spoon bread
  • toward end of roasting poultry, bake bean casserole.
  • prep potatoes to cook
  • take poultry out of oven
  • boil and mash potatoes
  • bake spoon bread and onion casserole while preparing gravy
  • serve food


Quick Tip: DIY Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are just that: crumbs of bread. I refuse to buy breadcrumbs because I always have unused slices of bread laying around the house.  Making breadcrumbs is easy and quick, so why not try this quick tip!

Forakble Tip: Instead of throwing away the butts of your bread, or that loaf that is almost going bad, just throw it into your freezer.  Keep collecting until you have a bag full of bread and you can make one big batch of crumbs.

Making Breadcrumbs:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lay out the bread on the wire racks.  Toast each side for about 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let sit for about 15 minutes.  You want the bread to be completely dried out.  Place bread in a food processor or a blender and leave on until all chunks are broken down.*  Store in a dry, air tight glass jar.  Breadcrumbs remain good for up to a year.

*You might want to do a test piece first, to make sure its dried out.  If it doesn’t want to break down nice, its probably because there is some moisture still left in the bread.  If so, put bread back in oven for 5 minutes or so, until its complete dried out.

Creamy Tapenade

I love cheese and I love tapenade, so I decided to put them together.  Delicious!

Creamy Tapenade

  • 8 0z. cream cheese
  • 4 oz. feta cheese
  • 1/2 c. roasted red peppers, diced
  • 1/4 c. diced olives
  • 1 Tbs honey

Dice olives and red peppers.  Mix cream cheese, feta and honey.  Mix in olives and red peppers, reserving a few for a garnish.  Easy and yummerz.

How To Make Pulled Pork: Its SO EASY!

Photo Courtesy of Flickr User FotoCuisine

Pulled pork has to be one of my most favorite summer meals.  It’s the perfect choice for large parties because one pork roast provides about 20 servings, is very easy to prepare, inexpensive, and full of delicious fatty goodness. Although it needs about 24 hours prep time, only 30-45 mintues of this is active work.  Sounds good to me!  Plus who doesn’t like pulled pork.  Well, maybe vegetarians.  I bet if you could get them to try it though, this dish would be enough to send them over to the dark side!

Easy Pulled Pork
4-12 hours dry rub marinade, 6-7 hours roasting, 30-60 min. prep, Total: 10-20 hours total

1 large 6-8 lb pork shoulder or Boston Butt (which is a shoulder cut)

Dry Rub

  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/8 c. (2 Tbs) kosher or other coarse salt
  • 1/8 c. (2 Tbs) Paprika
  • 1/8 c. (2 Tbs) Black Pepper
  • 1 Tbs garlic powder
  • 1 Tbs dry mustard

Carolina Vinegar BBQ Sauce

  • 2 c. cider vinegar
  • 1 c. ketchup
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. brown mustard
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs hot sauce
  • 1 Tbs Worcestershire
  • 2 Tbs Butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • horseraddish to taste

Prepare dry rub: 4-12 hours before roasting, marinate pork roast with dry rub.  The longer you can leave it the better.  I prefer to do it overnight.

Mix all dry rub ingredients in a bowl.  Rub over roast and into any folds and creases in meat to cover completely.

Wrap in cellophane and refrigerate for as long as you choose 4-12 hours or more.

Get Roast Pork In Oven: Preheat oven for 275 degrees.  Place pork roast in a roasting pan.  I’ve experimented before with placing the roast on a wire rack or just placing it on the bottom of the pan.  DO NOT use the wire wrack!  It keeps the fat from fully cooking and dissolving.  You want the fat to melt into the pot where it can then be reabsorbed by the meat, making for a much juicier roast!  Don’t worry about covering the meat for the majority of the cook time.  Just slap the meat in a roaster and put it into the oven!

You can see I’ve split up my roast into two sections.  I was experimenting with the rub.  On the darker one, I applied the rub before freezing months ago.  The other, I did according to these directions.  The freezing before hand worked, and helped cut out a bit of time, but not really worth doing as the meat flavor was a bit stronger.  It did work though.

Prepare BBQ Sauce: While your pork is roasting, make your BBQ sauce.  Mix all ingredients together.  Its just that easy.  Taste and tweak flavors according to desire.  Keep chilled until needed.

Roast Pork for 5-7 hours:  Check your roast at 5 hours.  Meat will be done with it reads about 170 degrees at its deepest part with a thermometer AND it will fall apart easily to the touch.  If the temp is good, but the meat still feels firm, leave it for another hour or so.  You’ll know your meat is done, when you can easily fork it apart.  If you check at 5 hours or so and the rub is starting to look blackish, like it might be burning, cover with tin foil and return to the oven.

You can see I used a wire wrack with this roast, but as I said before, I think it works better without it.  This roast was a bit drier then other roasts.  However, after pulling the meat apart, I poured the fat juices at the bottom of the pan over the roast and it made it much better.

Pull your Pork: When the pork is done, remove from oven and let sit for 15-20 minutes covered with tin foil.  If you have  pan full of melted pork fat, remove the pork from the pan and place in a bowl.  Using forks, pull the pork meat apart into strings.  Remove bone and excess fat.  You may want to pour a bit of extra juice from the roaster over the pork to keep it moist.  You can also pour some of your BBQ sauce on your pork now, or let people apply their own BBQ sauce depending on desire.

Serve your Pulled Pork: Set out with your BBQ sauce, buns and a delicious cole slaw for a topping.  Yum.  This really is so easy.  I’ve never had it go wrong.  I just don’t think you can screw this dish up!  Its a fail safe for anyone wanting to throw an awesome summer party!

How To Make Stuffed Grape Leaves

Stuffed grape leaves, also known as dolmades are some of my favorite finger food for parties.  Although assembling each of these tart Mediteranean treats can be time consuming, they’re really easy to do.  Once you start making them, you can get on a roll and the process can become quite meditative.  People love the salty tangy taste of the pickled grape leaves, tempered by the sticky dill and rice filling, and they’re always impressed you made them.  So let me help you impress your friends with some stuffed deliciousness.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

  • 2 c. dry rice
  • 4 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c. chopped dill
  • 1-2 lemons, juiced
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1-2 Tbs pomegranate syrup**
  • 1 8 oz. jar of pickled grape leaves*

* Grape leaves can easily be found at any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean market.  You can also check the ethnic isle of your local grocery store.

** Pomegranate syrup can also be found at your local Middle Eastern market as well.  If you don’t have any or can’t find it, you can substitute a fruit jam as a sweetener for your filling.

Prepare filling: Mix the dry rice with the vegetble or chicken stock and salt and cook.  Chop red onion and dill.  Once cooked, mix rice, red onion, dill, pommegranate syrup and lemon juice.  Taste and season according to taste.  If bland, add more salt, lemon and/or onion.  You can add more pomegranate syprup if it needs a bit more sweetener.

Wrap Grape Leaves:  Remove grape leaves from jar, unfold and allow to drain in a colander for 5-10 minutes. Clip any stems off grape leaves.  To assmeble the grape leaves follow these steps:

1.  Place a single grape leave on a wooden board with the veiny side face up.  Place 1 Tbs of filling onto the leaf, at the center of the base near the stems.

2.  Fold the bottom of the leaf up until it just covers the filling.

3.  Fold both sides of the leaf inward, around the filling.

4.  Roll forward over the remainder of the leaf to complete the stuffed grape leaf.

Repeat process until you run out of leaves, filling or both.

Poach Dolmades: the final step to completing your stuffed grape leaves is to poach them to soften the leaves and consolidate the filling.  Place the stuffed grape leaves in the bottom of a pan.  Add water until grape leaves are almost covered submerged in water but not covered.  Weigh down with a few heavy plates.  Over high heat, bring water to a boil and then reduce water to a simmer.  Simmer for 25 minutes.

Chill completed dolmades over night:  Remove grape leaves from the pan and place in a sealed container.  Chill overnight to allow the flavors to mature.

Serve cold.  Yum!

Thanksgiving Planning

Its Thanksgiving time!  As you could expect, this is one of our favorite holidays. Its a day of eating until you’re sick and then going to sleep on the living room floor.  We’re going to Ira’s parent’s up in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving this year so I’m not going to be doing much cooking.  I don’t want to miss out with my time to slave in the kitchen, so I’m hosting a Thanksgiving for friends tomorrow (sunday). To share the method to my madness, I thought I would share my menu and schedule with you so you can see how I’ve broken up my time.

2009 Thanksgiving Menu for 10

Janice, Ira’s mom, brought us a few of her organic free range chickens a few weeks ago.  They are the most delicious wonderful hormone free birds so I wanted to serve them for a Thanksgiving dinner.  They are a bit on the small side, so I decided to make a duck as well, when I found it on sale at our local market.  I then picked my favorite of the traditional side dishes.  I’ll include pics next week!  Here’s my schedule for getting everything together.

Friday Evening:

  • shopping: Stanley’s produce markt, Jewel Supermaket and Rich’s Polish Deli
  • tidy house


  • Put poultry into brine
  • pumpkin soup
  • cranberry sauce
  • pecan pie
  • roast sweet potatoes for spoon bread
  • slice onions for casserole
  • set table


  • assemble stuffing
  • prep poultry to roast
  • assemble casseroles (bean and onion)
  • get poultry in oven
  • bake stuffing
  • assemble spoon bread
  • toward end of roasting poultry, bake bean casserole.
  • prep potatoes to cook
  • take poultry out of oven
  • boil and mash potatoes
  • bake spoon bread and onion casserole while preparing gravy
  • serve food

Ok, I just wasted all day working on random stuff and now its 5 p.m. and I still have my whole Saturday check list to hit.  Time to get cooking!

Lamb and Goat Stock With Red Wine

Making your own stock is fucking awesome! If any of you shudder at my cursing, I can only say, you must never have made stock if you don’t understand that you need the expletive to fully communicate the awesomeness. I’ve had a freezer full of stuff, including those goat bones from the leg roasts we made this summer, just waiting around for a nice fall day where I could get all cozy in the kitchen with my kettles. This past weekend answered that call. Time for some hell-broth boil and bubble.

Stock is a great way to use bones and scarps left over from meals. I always throw them into bags and then into the freezer. Beside meat items, I also save any vegetable matter which is on the verge of going bad. When getting ready to make my stock the other day, in addition to the bag of goat bones, I also had a few lamb bones, as well as countless bags of frozen parsley, fennel stems, Chinese chives, broccoli stems, among others.

Making stock is as easy as just throwing all of this stuff into a pot and putting it on the stove top to simmer. You also want to include your basic flavor vegetables of onion, carrot and celery. Whole spices are good as well as bay leaves.

To finish this all off in style, I also happen to have a few cases of wine left over from our wedding. A couple bottles of red wine can’t hurt anyone! Fill the rest of the pot with water. Mix it all up, bring it to a boil and then down to a simmer. Simmer for as long as you want. I usually leave it anywhere from 4-8 hours. Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble.

Here’s a specific list of what I put into this stock. You don’t need to follow the recipe exactly. You can use it as a guide and add/substitute to your hearts content.

Lamb and Goat Stock

  • 5 lbs lamb and goat leg bones
  • 3 large onions, peeled and quartered
  • 3-4 large carrots, sliced in 2″ chunks
  • 4-5 fennel stalks
  • Chives
  • parsley
  • mint
  • 1 Tbs whole peppercorn
  • 1 Tbs whole coriander seed
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seed
  • 3-5 bay leaves
  • 2 bottles of red wine
  • 2-3 gallons of water, until pot is filled

When your stock is done, strain out the bones and vegetable matter and you’re left with a rich liquid which you can freeze or save refridgerated for a week or so.  Be warned though, your stock isn’t necessarily a tasty broth yet.  It doesn’t have any salt and it may be a bit watery.  Stock is used as a base for soup or sauces, which you add other things to.  If you want to make a broth out of it,  you can season with salt and any additional seasonings you want.  If its a bit watery, just simmer down until it has the concentrated flavor you want.

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