Thursday, February 25, 2010

'Enjoy Your Lasts'

As I was thinking more about my post yesterday, and about Blue-Eyed Bride’s original post, I remembered one of the best pieces of advice I ever received in college.

It was from a friend, a close friend at the time. She was graduating the spring semester before me; I was graduating the next fall.

It was towards the end of that spring semester, it may have even been finals week, and we were chatting (I don’t remember if it was over lunch, in the computer lab, or one evening while hanging out), but she started getting nostalgic.

Then she got serious and turned to look me in the eyes and said, “Really enjoy all of your lasts. Take time to savor all those precious moments, don’t just rush through it. I did and it’s one of my regrets, I was so focused on ‘being done’, ‘getting out of here’, ‘graduating and starting my real life with my real job’ that I just went through the motions and kept looking ahead. I should have been more present. I should have treasured the last home football game and the last group project no matter how crazy the assignment.”

That conversation drastically changed my outlook for my last semester and I took her words to heart. Every opportunity that I might have skipped before, I made a point to not only take advantage of it, but to enjoy it. My last semester, was probably one of my best, most fun, and most memorable semesters. I owed it all to her.

Now every time I talk to a senior in college that is stressed out about group projects, finding a job, and 'getting out of here and moving on'; I pass on the same advice because I know I would have rushed through that semester just to get to graduation and I would have missed out on so many great memories if someone hadn't taken the time to remind me to 'enjoy my lasts'.

It’s also advice that can apply to a lot of different stages of life, such as being engaged :)

Thanks for listening…I promise the next post will get back to food.

No Need to Rush

I came across a blog post tonight from Blue-Eyed Bride about contentment and not always looking forward to the ‘next big thing’ or being in such a hurry to get the ‘next checkmark’. It was a great post, and it really hit home for a lot of people (some amazing comments were left).

Lately I’ve been stressed out trying to finalize a date and location for our wedding. Yes, I’m a planner, and yes I like nailing things down, but I think the biggest reason I’m stressed about not having a date finalized yet is because that’s what EVERYONE always asks you.

Even when we first shared news of our engagement people responded with, “So when is the big day?” At the bridal show every vendor kicks off with, “When’s the wedding?” Friends start conversations with, “So do you have the date yet?” Vendors ask, “What is the date of your event?” And every time I have to answer, “I don’t know yet” it drives me crazy.

So I really wanted to have a decision made by this weekend. I wanted to check it off the list and move on to everything else.

It is now narrowed down to two possible locations with two very different dates. Each has its positives and negatives. Some people are more favorable to one than the other. I’m torn between the two.

But after reading the post from Erin on Blue-Eyed Bride, maybe I don’t need to rush quite so fast to check this off the list. Maybe I can take a couple of days to take a deep breath, relax a little, and then make the decision.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Coconut Macaroons

I love coconut! And I love coconut macaroons!

They were always a special treat and they always seemed so elegant and a bit mysterious when I was younger. Probably because they aren’t all that common; they seem to only be found at a few bakeries and the Ghirardelli stores in very large malls. This led me to believe they must be difficult and complicated to make.

Coconut macaroons are also one of my Mom’s favorite cookies. So when I came across a recipe, I took note and thought it might be worth the effort to try for Mother’s Day or my Mom’s birthday one year. However, I either didn’t have the time around those events or forgot about them…

…That is until May of last year when I was looking for cookie recipes to take to my family reunion. Because the reunion was later in the weekend, I had the entire first half of the weekend to play around in the kitchen so I gave the coconut macaroons a try.

They were actually pretty SIMPLE and EASY!

And they were a HUGE HIT! Especially with my Great Aunt, she LOVED them.

So when my cousin’s family came to visit this summer and I found out they would be stopping by to see my Great Aunt, I packaged up some coconut macaroons for them to give her. Well…my Great Aunt shared her cookies with them (or they snuck some on the way there). Either way, my cousin LOVED the coconut macaroons as well and asked for the recipe.

Because I’m a slacker, or because I’m busy, or because it was all part of a greater plan all along, my cousin didn’t get the recipe until she got a box full of Christmas cookies in the mail that had the recipe attached to the tin with the coconut macaroons.

Not all of those macaroons fit into the box sent to my cousin and I took the leftovers to my parents’ house for Christmas, where my sister-in-law tried some that were dipped in chocolate…and she LOVED them too.

I made them for the Sweet Treat Party and one of my friends also became a fan.

The only reason I’m sharing all of this is to let you know that if you make these cookies, people will LOVE them and maybe start to ask for them and you’ll probably have to start doubling and tripling the recipe for there to be enough to go around ;)

Give them a try, it’s really not that hard. After you make a lot of batches, you’ll probably be able to work on the recipe from memory or play around with it and try new things. I have definitely tweaked and modified and still had good results; I even made the recipe with gluten-free flour and they turned out great!

Coconut Macaroons

1 small package (7 oz.) flaked coconut (more than 2 1/2 cups, but less than 2 3/4)
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (can be substituted with a gluten-free baking flour)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 egg whites
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (can be substituted with ¼ teaspoon almond extract)

Chocolate bark/candy coating
2 oz. semisweet chocolate (chopped) and ½ teaspoon shortening

Preheat oven to 325F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (DO NOT FORGET THIS or you’ll have a heck of a time trying to get the cookies off the cookie sheet and they may or may not resemble a cookie at that point).

Place coconut, sugar, flour, and salt in a bowl and stir to combine. Add in egg whites and vanilla and stir with a wooden spoon (cheap plastic spatulas WILL break).

Scoop the dough into rounded ball-like shapes onto the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. It’s easiest if you have a cookie dough scoop, ideally about a teaspoon size scoop or if you use larger that’s fine you may just need to bake the macaroons a little longer. (If you don’t have a cookie dough scoop, just use spoons.)

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges and portions of the tops are golden brown (I sometimes check the bottom of a couple of cookies as well to make sure the bottoms are completely golden brown). I sometimes have to go even longer than the 25 minutes if I’ve used a larger cookie dough scoop.

Place on a cooling rack and let cool. Then enjoy!


Cover the macaroons in chocolate.

The easiest way is to melt the chocolate bark (sometimes called candy coating depending where you purchase it) according to the directions on the package. Usually there are directions for the microwave or the stovetop, the microwave is easy and fast.

Another way is to create your own chocolate coating by melting the chopped semisweet chocolate and shortening in a saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth.

Then dip the macaroons or drizzle the chocolate over the macaroons and place on wax paper to allow the chocolate to set.

Chocolate or no chocolate, they’re pretty darn good. I promise…you can ask my cousin or my sister-in-law, or my Great Aunt ;)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentine's Day Dinner

It was a lovely Valentine’s Day.

Beautiful roses from my fiancé.

Every year my fiancé and I trade off who gets to plan Valentine’s Day. Neither of us really likes going out on Valentine’s Day (everything is so crowded and expensive), so we spend the evening at one of our homes and enjoy a nice relaxing dinner.

This year was my turn!

For dinner I made Stuffed Shells with a spinach cheese filling and served it with salad and chopped garlic bread of course.

Top View

Side View

For the stuffed shells I modified a recipe from one of my cookbooks. I adjusted amounts of ingredients and added in some additional seasoning to the cheese and spinach filling to make it similar (but not exactly the same as) Noni's lasagna filling. I did, however, use a canned sauce as the recipe suggested because we had some other things going on earlier in the day that prevented me from having enough time to make the family sauce. Plus, I finally found a canned sauce that is actually pretty good and has a fresh taste…Muir Glen Organic Italian Herb Pasta Sauce.

Spinach-Stuffed Shells

24 dried jumbo pasta shells
1 12-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed
3 eggs
4 cups shredded Italian cheese blend (16 oz)
2 ¼ cups ricotta cheese
2 25.5 oz jars pasta sauce
black pepper (to your preference, about ¾ teaspoon is a good start)
dried parsley (to your preference, about ½ teaspoon is a good start)

Cook jumbo pasta shells according to package directions or slightly less than package directions. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water; drain again.

While pasta is cooking or after draining pasta, drain thawed spinach very well.

Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl, prepare filling by mixing spinach, eggs, 3 ½ cups of shredded Italian cheese blend, ricotta cheese, a pinch or more of dried parsley and ground black pepper to your personal preference.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling into each shell and place shells in a 13x9 baking dish. Pour sauce over shells.
Cover with foil and bake for about 40 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle remaining ½ cup of shredded Italian cheese blend on top and place back in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Let stand before serving.

For dessert I made a Caramel Walnut Tart and served it warm with vanilla bean ice cream.

This dough was actually the second half of the dough I made for the fruit tart. I wrapped it up in plastic wrap and put it in a freezer bag and placed it in the freezer. I took it out a day or so before I needed it and let it thaw out in the fridge.

The caramel was made from scratch, with honey! It’s the first time I’ve made homemade caramel and it was yummy.

I’ll post this recipe later along with the recipe for the fruit tart.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sweet Treat Party

Saturday I hosted a casual little gathering for Valentine’s Day…actually it was really more of an excuse to get some girls together and of course to bake!

I called it a ‘Sweet Treat Party’ and there were definitely plenty of sweets…

More cookies
Cupcake pops/cake bites

It’s a good thing I ran out of time to make the other couple of recipes I was considering.

Don’t worry I did have a fruit tray, a veggie tray and some chips and salsa to balance out the sugar ;)

I used a white cake mix and canned frosting (white and strawberry) to save myself some time. I played around with a few different decorating techniques with the frosting and a variety of sprinkles.

Look this one matches the napkin!

This one was a little crazy, but was a hit with the 2 ½ year old little boy.

Here are the rest:

I had two types of cookies: Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies (click here for more details) and Coconut Macaroons.

The coconut macaroons are becoming very popular. Every time I make these there is another loyal follower. These really are not as difficult as they appear to be, I’ll post the recipe later this week.

Coconut Macaroons and Cupcakes

Cupcake Pops/Cake Bites
I have an even deeper awe, appreciation and respect for Bakerella now. These are a bit more complicated and take a bit more TLC than I had originally thought. I was very rushed and did not allot them as much time as I should have and hence they did not look nearly as good as Bakerella’s. I’ll post more on my experience with cake pops later and re-cap what I think I could do better next time. The good news is that even though they didn’t look that great, my friends thought they were delicious.

A few of the Cupcake Pops that even came close to turning out correctly.

The rest of the Cupcake Pops that didn't even make it to 'Pop' status...they all look so very sad.

All in all, it was a fun and relaxing afternoon visiting with friends and it was exactly what I needed.

Thanks girls!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

Just a quick post today.

I've been having a wonderful Valentine's weekend, definitely a needed break of fun and relaxation after the crazy week I had.

Lots of new posts are in the works based on some of the fun activities of this weekend, so check back soon...

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Update

Why do I like the Super Bowl?
  • I love football
  • I love any excuse to bake things for gatherings of people, it’s usually a good opportunity to try out something new
  • I have a marketing background so I find the commercials interesting even beyond the general entertainment factor

Unfortunately, the Super Bowl didn’t end up quite like I had hoped.

I know, I know, the Saints have never been to the Super Bowl and for the City of New Orleans, they deserve to win…it’s a very compelling story line. However, I really like Peyton and therefore I was the one and only person at the Super Bowl party cheering for the Colts.

Oh well…this is not a sports blog, so I’ll hold any additional commentary and get onto more important things…

What did I make for the Super Bowl Party?

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies

I was going to try out a new recipe, but life this past week and especially this weekend was busy and chaotic. So I stuck to a cookie recipe that I’ve used quite a few times before (I have even made these with gluten-free flour); for three reasons: 1) I knew it was easy and quick, 2) it makes a lot of cookies and since they have red and white the extra cookies will be perfect for a little holiday get together I’m hosting next weekend, and 3) because I already had all the ingredients I needed to make the cookies.

I always have Craisens in the pantry, I love them. They're good plain or mixed with walnuts for a healthy snack.

The recipe comes from the back of the Craisens 6 oz. package.

I stashed the rest of the cookies away so they'll last until the party this weekend (more on that in a future post).

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bridal Show

So much to take in…a lot to process.

This is everything I had to look at and read before the bridal show (they were all gifts).

I’m enjoying looking through all of them, but as you can tell I’ve only fully gotten through a few of them (since only a few of them have post-it note tabs sticking out the edges). I need to find more reading time!

We went to a bridal show this past weekend. It was fun, a little smaller than I expected (and not as many caterers or bakeries, which meant not as many food samples as I’d hoped).

But we got some good information and a few ideas. Here’s all the new information I have to go through.

Not to mention all the wedding blogs out there that are so addicting (not in any particular order):
Style Me Pretty – The Ultimate Wedding Blog
Snippet & Ink
Southern Weddings
The Bride’s Café
Polka Dot Bride
Elegant Engagements
The Wedding Chicks
The Bride’s Guide – Martha Stewart
Bella Vita
Married and More with Michelle
Once Wed
A Practical Wedding (helps keep things in perspective)
A $10,000 Wedding (she’s no longer posting, but I got a lot from her journey)
The Ritzy Bee Blog

Next up on the agenda… visiting venues.

Hopefully in the next month or so (or sooner?) we can pick a location and date. I think I’ll feel better when I actually have an answer to the #1 and #2 questions people like to ask when you get engaged…What’s your wedding date? Where is the wedding going to be?