Stars Abound

My friend, Liz, hosted a small viewing party to watch the Oscars last night. I thought about what to bring for a dessert, and I decided on these cute star cookies.

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Making them was actually quite easy.

Start with your favorite sugar cookie dough. Store-bought or homemade works the same.

Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut out star-shaped cookies.

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Use a smaller cookie cutter, ad cut another star shaped cookie out of the larger one.

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Put the cookies on a silicone baking mat (this is super important!) and bake at 350 for about 8-10 minutes.

In the mean time, take some jolly ranchers and hit them once with a meat tenderizer.

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You don’t need to completely smash the candy – larger pieces will work fine.

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Once your timer goes off, take the cookies out of the oven and remove the smaller cookies from the pan. They should be done.

Fill the inside part of the stars with the crushed jolly ranchers.

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Be careful not to over fill, or you’ll end up with cookies like this:

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That one didn’t make it to the party.

Put the cookies back in the oven for only another minute or so. When they come out, they should look like this.

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Let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for a few minutes. You want to make sure the candy hardens.

Use a spatula to remove the cookies from the pan, and let them cool on a baking rack.

I love the way the candy is sort of see through and creates a pop of color in the cookie without adding icing. The red was a great way to add the red carpet into the cookie itself. Also, because the candy is really thin, you can bite into the cookie without breaking your teeth.

These were a big hit at the party – none were left!

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Game Day Cheese Stuffed Pretzels

We headed to a Superbowl party last night with some of our friends. There was a great spread of football food fare: chicken wings, pigs in blankets, veggies and dip, etc.

We decided to bring cheese stuffed pretzels to share.

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I found this recipe online, so we decided to give it a whirl.

What we found that the recipe, while time consuming, was not too difficult.

We made the dough, then let it rise.

Then we spread the cheese out, rolled the dough,

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and cut it into 1 inch bites.

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We boiled the pretzel bites,

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then baked them.

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I found you really need to pinch the cheese into the dough, so it doesn’t fall out while boiling.

We served them warm by themselves (no sauce), and they were pretty good.

The verdict: I would make these again, but there need to be more cheese. Like, a lot more cheese. When eating them at the party, we took to adding cubes of cheese to them before eating them.

So, we’ll try them again, with a cheesier tweak.

Winter Brunch

This past weekend, Dan and I hosted a brunch for his parents.

I thought about tablescape ideas, and as much as I wanted bright, poppy colors for a springtime theme, the harsh reality is it’s the middle of a Chicago winter consisting of grey skies and snow. I decided to work with the season instead of against it, so I focused on a glimmering, snow time decor. Here’s the table I set:

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I went with a silver-toned tablecloth and simple, porcelain white hurricanes with snowflake cutouts.

The white plates with grey dots went well.

As for the menu, we started out with some banana pancake stack appetizers.

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Those are banana pancakes with a little banana slice as a garnish, held together by a toothpick, and drizzled in maple syrup.

We were glad to have them, as we munched on those while we make the main dish of egg cups and house potatoes. Unless you’re making a casserole or something else coming out of the oven, you’ll want to make your egg dishes very close to the time of serving, so they don’t get cold. Because of this, we felt appetizers would work well in getting the timing correct.

Along with the appetizers, we also had a constant supply of mimosas. For a fun twist, we bought orange juice mixed with mango juice. I loved this new type of mimosa and won’t go back to using just plan OJ anymore.

To finish, we served skinny mini chocolate chip scones.

Of course, I took no other photos during the brunch, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

And there went the first event we hosted in the new year. Here’s to many more great gatherings to come!

Hot Cocoa Bar with All the Fixings

My holiday party had so much going on that I had to split the post into two.

You were probably wondering what happened to dessert in my last post. Did I get so wrapped up in making the appetizers and putting together the wine tasting that I forgot about dessert?

Of course not!

Instead of making one big dessert, I decided to make several little desserts as part of a hot cocoa bar.

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I always loved the idea of a hot coca bar and having a ton of different little mix ins to customize your hot chocolate. I think planning the hot cocoa bar was the part of party planning that I enjoyed the most.

I planned to make some hot chocolate from scratch with real milk and cocoa powder (no mixes!) and have cookies, chocolate chips, candy canes, marshmallows, and some booze to let everyone have exactly the cup of hot cocoa they wanted.

I pinterested and googled to see if I was missing anything. That’s when I came across this set of hot cocoa bar printables. I thought they were so cute, so I incorporated them into the decor.

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I ended up deciding to bake cinnamon biscotti

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and gingerbread cookies. The thing about the cookies – I bought this great cookie cutter from World Market that cut cookies that were able to hang on the edge of the cocoa mugs.

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Aren’t they cute? Little hanging gingerbread stars.

I also was crazy enough to attempt to make homemade honey vanilla marshmallows. The honey really comes out in the warm cocoa.

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I rounded out the bar with mini chocolate chips, cinnamon sticks, chocolate dipped candy canes, and frozen whipped cream dollops made at home from heavy whipping cream.
For alcohol, I had some peppermint schnapps and whipped cream vodka on hand.

I was so glad I put this hot chocolate bar together. People loved it and said it was a great addition to the party.

Perhaps you can try one before this holiday season is over.

Blind Wine Tasting Holiday Party

My annual holiday party was this past weekend on Saturday night. As always, we had a fun time.

This year, we turned the party into a wine tasting event. When guests arrived, I put their bottle of wine into sweater covers, hiding the type of wine and brand from view.

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I made little hanging tags with the numbers 1-5, and randomly tied each label to a bottle.

Dan made these cute little score cards for us to take notes and put final ratings of 1-5 of our favorites wine selections.

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I had prizes for first and second place. Prizes always make parties more fun. They were small – a wine pourer and a foil cutter – but I stayed with the wine theme.

To fill up our stomachs with more than just wine, I made some easy appetizers for people to snack on before and during the tasting.

We had goat cheese stuffed and bacon wrapped dates, sweet potato casserole pouches, bruschetta (made by my dad), and an assortment of cheeses with crackers.

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After the tasting, we all took part in the Secret Santa with registries that I posted about earlier.

My gift? A moleskine planner and a neat crafty item that wraps bread in your bread basket! I loved it.

Another great holiday party for the books with these ladies.

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We ate, we drank, and we were merry.

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After Thanksgiving Dinner…Another Big Dinner

What did Dan and I do after eating two (yes, two) Thanksgiving dinners on Thursday? Why, we invite my parents over for dinner on Friday.

Let me explain.

On Thanksgiving, Dan and I see both sides of the family, though not for very long. To compensate, we see my parents the day after Thanksgiving, and Dan’s family on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Yep, it’s a busy weekend.

We also always decorate the house, while watching Elf, the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a pretty jam packed day.

This year, I thought I’d keep it simple with the food we were preparing, and went with dishes that didn’t take too long to prep or cook.

The menu:

Shrimp cocktail appetizer
Turkey meatloaf with balsamic glaze (we made them in mini loaf pans to cut down on cooking time)
Creamy cauliflower puree
Balsamic roasted asparagus
Honey glazed baby carrots
Mini cannoli cream cups

For decorations/table settings, I just went with the holiday decor I put out that morning. The one little extra touch I did was make place cards. I used a scallop hole punch and some place card holders from C&B that my mom gave me last year. I made these a good 20 minutes before my parents showed up.

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Unfortunately, in the rush of the day, I took virtually no photos of the food or prep. Of course.

Here is one of the table before we chowed down.

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And here are the cute mini cannoli cups.

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They weren’t exactly the same, but they were a fun dessert to make.

I very much enjoyed all of the family time over the last few days.

And now, back to Monday.

Scary Movie Party

Last night, some friends came over and we celebrated Halloween in a small way. A kind of old school way.

I made Dan hook up a DVD/VCR in our living room so I could bring out some old movies, on tape, that we hadn’t watched since high school. The movie we ended up watching: Scream.

Wow is that movie old. We googled it, and it was made in 1996. No wonder Sydney was so suspicious that Billy was making those scary calls to her. he was the only one with a cell phone!

I made some snacks to go with the movie, and kept in the Halloween theme.

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In case you can’t tell, that’s Black cat eyes (these pumpkin seeds),

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freeze dried brains (amazing fall spiced air popped popcorn),

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and demon blood (red wine in a fancy decanter).

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I found those cute little tags here. You can print them for free! I cut out the one for the decanter, but for the other two, I folded the paper over to have a standing place card.

Good times were had by all.

I’ll be continuing the festivities tonight by dressing up (OK, just putting on a witch hat) and handing otu candy to all the trick-or-treators.

How will you celebrate Halloween today?