December 11, 2011

Rainbow Madness

I first saw the rainbow cake on Omnomicon's blog. I am not sure why - but I needed to make this cake.

I made it for a Mother's Day brunch for our families (I wasn't a mother at the time).  It's a great cake for a kid's birthday party or a party with an art or rainbow theme. Omnomicon uses a diet cake recipe to make her cake, but I try not to make anything "diet" for company unless I've tried it before. I ended up using two boxes of Betty Crocker French Vanilla cake.  In order to avoid having to wash 6 extra dishes I opted to dye the cake mix in 6 plastic cups. This made for an easy cleanup - and it also made the transfer to the pan easier (I just poured the batter straight from the cup).   I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to layer the colors, but it turned out to be quite simple. As you add a new color to the center of the pan, the rings push themselves outward.  I did the rainbow (with pink instead of red), but you could do this with any color combination.

I may have had a little to much fun making this cake, and it was very well received.

I thought about dying the frosting blue (like a sky) and adding marzipan white clouds on the cake - for the whole sky/rainbow effect, but I figured there was enough food coloring in the cake, so I ended up going with white frosting.  In the end I was happy with the white frosting as it added to the surprise.  It was deceivingly boring from the outside - and it was initially "rejected" when my nieces and nephew pointed to the desserts they wanted to try.

But once I cut out a slice of the cake to reveal the inside:  The kids . . . they came a running! The cake was a huge hit (my 7 year old nephew declared that I was "amazing" - if only he knew it came from a box), and the whole thing was finished quickly.

I would highly recommend checking it out the step by step "How to Make" on Omnomicon's blog for the full details.

September 5, 2011

It's All About Salmon

One of my go-to to weekday meals is Roasted Salmon.  Salmon is really good for you, and my husband (who never used to eat fish at all) is willing to eat it (and my son L-O-V-E-S it!).  It is super easy to make, but worthy of serving for company.

It also is really easy to have on hand.  We buy it in bulk at Costco, cut it up in portions, and then freeze each portion.  We usually move it from the freezer to the fridge the night before we cook it, and it defrosts in time for dinner.  But if we ever forget to defrost it (which is more often than not), it defrosts pretty quickly in a bowl of warm water.

Most important of all, it meets all five of my requirements for a great weekday meal:  (1) healthy; (2) doesn't taste healthy; (3) very little hands-on time; (4) my husband's not afraid to make it or I can make it in advance; and (5) I can have it on the table within 15 minutes of getting home (even if my husband didn't help).  I rotate between four different seasonings/marinades (and have a fifth if I have more time), but all are based on the same formula.
  1. Pick one of the twists on seasoning or marinades (see below).
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  3. Place salmon on baking dish and cook in oven for 12-15 min (increase time if cooking more than four pieces of salmon; when I cook the entire bulk package from Costco it takes 20-30 minutes). 
Twists on seasoning and marinades:
  1. The "OG" - Lemon Roasted Salmon:  Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over each piece of salmon and rub to coat top.  Sprinkle "Lemon Herb" McCormick seasoning over salmon.
  2. Soyaki Salmon - Pour Soyaki (from Trader Joes) over the salmon.  Can be marinated for 15 minutes or more, which does make a slight difference, but it's also fine without the pre-marinating.  
  3. Island Soyaki Salmon - Same as Soyaki Salmon, but use the Island Soyaki from Trader Joe's, and use that instead of the Soyaki
  4. The Purist - Drizzle a little olive oil over the salmon and rub in, then sprinkle a little Lawry's seasoning (or Mrs. Dash alternative), and rub in a little minced garlic. 
  5. Fancy Mustard Salmon -  Although you won't catch me making this one on a weekday (unless it is also a holiday), this is a great marinade as well (I sometimes cook this one at 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but 425 works too):  Mix the juice and zest from half a lemon with 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of dijon mustard, then add 1 minced garlic clove.  Season with salt and pepper.  Then drizzle (and spread) over salmon, set salmon aside for 15 minutes before cooking. 

August 24, 2011

Israeli Couscous with Apples and Dried Cherries

This is a staple on my monthly menu rotation every spring and summer.  I love this as a side dish for barbeque, but I also love it as a main course for lunch (especially if you add grilled chicken).  This dish is company worthy, and is one of my go-to dishes whenever we are invited to a pot luck.  Every time, without fail, people ask for the recipe. This one is definitely a keeper, and it belongs in my hall of fame.

Couscous Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or follow ratio of liquid to couscous on couscous box, may need 4 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 medium apples, diced (I usually use Gala apples)
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted or not (I never toasted them, but I googled how, and it turns out that all you have to do is preheat the oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit), arrange the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet, bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown, and cool).

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil


  1. In a small pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil.
  2. In the meantime, in a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. 
  3. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is slightly browned (about 3 to 5 minutes). 
  4. Pour the boiled chicken broth into the pot with the couscous, stir a couple times, and return the broth to a boil.
  5. Cover the pot and simmer for 12 to 20 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated (check directions on couscous box – times may vary). 
  6. Transfer the cooked couscous to a large bowl and set aside to cool.
  7. Add the parsley (if using), rosemary, thyme, apple, dried cherries, and almonds to the cooled couscous. 
  8. Make the vinaigrette - in a small bowl, combine the vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper and whisk in the olive oil until smooth. 
  9.  Pour the vinaigrette over the couscous and toss to coat evenly.

Leftover Magic:

Since you are making the couscous anyway, make some extra plain coucous and set it aside. Then, during the week, easily transform it to another dish.  I like to add sauteed onions and zucchini or cooked lentils (which I buy pre-cooked at Trader Joes, yes, I know how easy it is to cook lentils, no I still don't think its worth doing myself). 

June 5, 2011

Baby Bird Shower


Yet another good friend is having a baby!  Which means I get to share pictures from another beautiful baby shower. 

Welcome Sign

A balloon tied to a chair, helped guests find the party.

The grandma-to-be rented beautiful periwinkle tablecloths, white frilly napkins, and white chivari chairs.  She also found mugs with baby birds and nets and filled them with cookies. 
I made these centerpieces using white hydrangeas and roses:

I found this bird cage (which is actually a candle holder) at Micheal's and I made a sign that said:  "Help fill [mom-to-be's] nest with good advise."  Each guest then wrote down their best baby advise.  We read some of the entertaining ones out loud, and the mom-to-be kept the notes of advise. 
The cake was made to match the invitation.

Games:  We did three games, which was perfect. 

We started with a multiple choice quiz about the parents-to-be.  The questions were all based on stories from their past, and as we read through the answers we learned all kinds of cute things the parents-to-be did when they were children.  It was a great ice breaker game.  It felt like everyone in the room was having one conversation.

After brunch was served, we played my new favorite baby shower game, Preg or Porn!

For an extra game, the guest with the birthday closest to the baby's due date won a small prize.

April 25, 2011

My Baby Boy is One!

My husband claims I only wanted a baby so that I could have an excuse to throw more parties.  Although that's not entirely true, I do love a good party, and I was so excited to put together this Sesame Street Themed Birthday Party to celebrate my son's first birthday.

I really wanted to pick a theme that my son would enjoy.  He really loved Elmo and Sesame Street, and I thought he would respond well to the characters he loved so much.

One thing I didn't think about when I chose the theme, is that all the Sesame Street characters are licensed, and the costs for the stuffed animals and other decorations started to add up quickly.  So I decided to stick mainly with bold colors:  red, yellow, green, and blue, and I added touches of Sesame Street to remind people there was a theme.  I also rented a large bounce house that came decorated with Sesame Street characters.

One of the best decorations I got was the these easy peel off wall stickers and these ones of different Sesame Street characters.  I placed a couple on the front door to greet guests, and scattered the rest of them around the walls in my house.  I even backed one of the Oscar stickers with a thick piece of foam board, and stuck it to the ice bucket to make it look like Oscar and his trash bin. 

These were a very affordable way to decorate.  I spent more on some of the stuffed animals then I spent on all the stickers.  The best part is that after the party, I removed the stickers from the various places I put them, and I used them to decorate a wall in my son's playroom.

I got inexpensive large outdoor blankets in blue and green (which we still use all the time) and spread toys all around them, to create a large play area for the babies.   I made a similar play area in our living room because the weather forecast was on the colder side (with a chance of rain), but the weather ended up being so nice, that we moved the entire play area outside.  We also had the bouncy house.  I was going to do an Elmo coloring station, but I ran out of time.  We really didn't need it though.
Play area mid-set-up

I ordered 100 balloons (for delivery!) and I spread them around the edge of our yard, and used them for centerpieces (I tied the balloons to fish bowls full of goldfish snacks and I tied little Elmo balloon weights to the tops of the bowls).  I also left some loose balloons floating around inside our house and the kids were excited to play with them and be able to take one home. 

The party was in the afternoon, but I figured that a lot of the guests (especially the ones with babies of their own) would head to the party without having lunch, so I went ahead and did a lunch buffet, and I also had tables with snack foods (for adults and for kids).  

  • I did a sandwich bar, so that everyone could maker their own sandwich.  I had assorted breads, cheeses, condiments, cold cuts, and various toppings.  I even put out a toaster for those that preferred their bread toasted.  I decorated the buffet with Sesame Street characters (which now live in our playroom), and I also made special labels for the condiments that used a picture of my son sitting on Sesame Street with Big Bird and Elmo (I also used the image on the invitation):

I'm still not sure why, but we ran out of the fruit salad quick!  (and I refilled it three times).  It was just mango, strawberries, grapes, and blueberries.

For the kids snack table I filled plastic buckets in primary colors with puffs, mum-mums, string cheese, and goldfish.  I also had a snack table for adults with my tomato lentil dip with crackers, assorted trail mixes, and other snacks that were easy to put together. 

For dessert we had vanilla cupcakes and chocolate cake (and of course, there was a smashcake for the birthday boy!).  I stayed away from food coloring for the cupcakes, so I used colorful paper for them instead.  I never put the chocolate cake out, and I asked friends to start cutting it before we sang happy birthday, so that we could serve it right after.

I filled large beverage containers with water and Arnold Palmer's.  We also filled drink bins with sodas, milks, juices, and beers (our friends without children were grateful).  I had hot water for tea and instant coffee in the kitchen (away from the children), and I had a small sign on the beverage table letting my guests know to check inside in the kitchen for hot beverages.

I had sippy cups for the kids, as well as straws and lids for the cups. 

For the kids' favors, I packed red, green, and blue gift bags with sunglasses, bubbles, mum-mums, and mini bag of goldfish.  Sort of a mini-version of our party in a to-go bag.  For the adults, I had a Cookie Monster Cookie Bar.  I got a pretty good assortment of different cookies (including girl scout cookies and cookies from a famous local cookie store).  I found great inexpensive jars at Target, and I decorated them with ribbon and labels.  The jars were a great find and I have already used them for other parties we have had.

March 29, 2011

Cute As a Button Baby Shower

I wish I could take full credit for this shower, but it was very much a team effort.  I admit, I was at first skeptical of the selected theme - "cute as a button."  It would not necessarily have been my very first choice for a baby shower theme, especially for this particular mama-to-be.  But all the details came together perfectly.


The colors were the same as the baby's nursery (mint green and brown).  We decided the best way to bring in the mint green was through linens.  One of the hostesses found gorgeous linens, and they really set the tone for the entire party. 

The same hostess also came up with the brilliant idea of going to the garment district downtown to buy buttons - tons and tons of buttons.  We made napkin holders out of ribbons and buttons, we made a faux runner out of buttons, and we even tied buttons to the bottom of the champagne glasses (we tried to use different ones to help guests remember which glass was theirs).  We also sprinkled buttons around the buffet table and the drinks table.

For the centerpieces, we used glass vases that I had on hand (accented with ribbons and buttons), and arranged white hydrangeas and mums in the vases.  Both flowers were so easy to arrange. 


The Menu

We served brunch (in case you haven't noticed, I am a big fan of brunch).

We had:


1.  Guessing Kisses -  We filled a jar full of kisses, and we put out a sign asking guests to guess how many kisses there were in the jar for the mama-to-be's baby.  I think every shower should have at least one passive game (where no one has to do much, but someone wins a prize) - and this is a great one.

2.  Quiz - One of the hostesses prepared a quiz about the parents-to-be.  I usually am not a fan of quizzes because I feel they are antisocial.  I like games that facilitate chatter.  But, this was hands down the best quiz I ever played at a shower.  The questions were so personal and hilarious.  The hostess who put this together asked all of us (and the mama-to-be's sister) to share funny and touching stories about the parents-to-be.  She took each funny story and turned it into a question.  We were all laughing as we were reading the quiz, but the best part was reading the answers.  Each question really enabled the mamma-to-be to reminisce about her own childhood and her relationship with her hubby.  It really was the perfect quiz.  Now whenever I do a quiz, I try to make it so that each question is really an opportunity to tell a cute or touching story about the mama-to-be.

3.  Preg or Porn - Yup, that's right, there is a board with closeup pictures of women's faces, and the guests have to guess if the picture is of someone giving birth or someone in a porn.   

Every time I play this game it is a huge hit! 

This was the first time I made a preg or porn board, and I learned quickly that my pictures were too easy, and I have found much better pictures.  (but for the record, it is much harder than you might think to find pictures that work well for this game, and I shudder to think about what my Google search history must have looked like that day). 

4.  Tray Game with a Twist - Shockingly, I am not a huge fan of the tray game (the game where you spread items for the guest of honor on a tray and guests have to remember as many items as they can).  I get that it's a popular game, and maybe that is why I am not a fan.

However, I went to a shower a couple weeks before this one, where they played the game with a twist.  The mama-to-be and hostesses walked around the room with a tray, as we all took turns trying to see what was on it to play the tray game - yet again.  Only, they never actually told us what we were playing.  They just handed out cards and pencils and told us to wait and see what we were playing.  Then, after they waled the tray around the whole room and the tray was put away, the hostess said "OK, now everyone write down as many things as you can remember that the mama-to-be was wearing."

We didn't really have the time to properly play this game (so many guests came late that we were on such a delayed schedule).  At the very least, the mama-to-be got some very useful things from the tray.  If we had more time, I think this would have been a great game. 

For the favors, one of the hostesses made these amazing button cookies from Martha Stewart's website.  They were so cute, and they tasted great!