My collection of plates and tea cups started when I threw a tea party baby shower for my friend, Nicola, a whole decade ago! Over the years, I have added more treasures to my collection, and I love the stories … Continue reading
Category Archives: In the Kitchen
Gruyere-Broccolini Puff Pastry Christmas Trees
My motto about cooking is that I don’t do it much, but when I do, it’s something I saw on Pinterest. We throw a big holiday party every year. Last year, I introduced these puff pastry Christmas trees, and they’ve … Continue reading
Recipe Tea Towels
If you’re already familiar with Spoonflower, then you know how amazing their site is. If you haven’t been introduced to them yet, be prepared to be completely addicted! They can custom print anything on fabric, and you can design your … Continue reading
White Chocolate Cranberry Cake – A Modern Fruitcake
When I got married, my mom gave me a little notebook with favorite baking recipes from our home. Last year, I shared our childhood banana bread recipe from this book.
Another favorite is this recipe for a cranberry white chocolate cake. It has the perfect blend of moistness with sweet and tart flavors, and it’s always a hit at the holidays. It originally came from a Baker’s chocolate ad in an magazine, though we’ve tweaked it a bit over the years.
- 7/8 c butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs
- 3 Tbsp orange juice
- 1 Tbsp grated orange rind
- 2 c all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 cups cranberries
- 6 oz white chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
- Grease and flour a 9″ tube or bundt pan
- Beat butter and sugars with electric mixer
- Beat in eggs, orange juice, and rind
- Beat in flour and baking powder
- Stir in cranberries and chocolate chips
- Bake 1 hour
- Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Turn onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
I make this cake every year for our holiday party, and it has become a popular tradition!
What are some of your childhood holiday favorites?
Mad Men Party – Menu
It’s hard to pick a favorite thing about our recent Mad Men- themed party, but the food was a definite hit. Do check out the other posts on the pre-party brainstorming and the Mad Men party wrap-up for more ideas.
True to the spirit (haha) of the show, I’ll start with the drinks! Steve played bartender for much of the evening, which I think satisfied his connection to the TV series – he mixes himself a drink in one of our roly poly glasses for each new episode.
In the dining room, we had a dry bar including some fabulous California-themed vintage glasses from our local thrift store. I love the whimsical art with Sally Draper serving drinks. It’s from Dyna Moe’s book, Mad Men: The Illustrated World.
Besides an array of appetizers set out in “chip and dip” format, Steve and I each had our pet projects for the evening’s menu. His was definitely more refined – a Beef Wellington. Since we were eating buffet style (and serving 25), he made a “deconstructed” Beef Wellington, and it was perfection! His have-to side dish was a wedge salad with blue cheese. I confess to eating just the blue cheese and bacon, but the wedge did look good on the table…
My retro dishes of choice were a Waldorf Salad – modernized with some dried cranberries – and a Jell-o mold. I did look up some traditional Jell-o salads, but I couldn’t bring myself to put vegetables into gelatin, even for the sake of authenticity, so I made mine with canned Mandarin oranges and strawberries. It was delicious and definitely a nostalgia item for many in the room.
A big thank you to our friends who came back in time with us for a fun evening!
Ninjago Birthday Party – Part 1
Pulling off a birthday party is like an athletic event (or at least I imagine it to be, not actually being athletic) – I work like crazy and then crash afterward. It’s always worth it to give our boys a day to remember. Here’s the first post on our seven year old’s Ninjago birthday party. I put details on the party activities in a separate post.
Ninjago birthday decorations
I still like the feel of a paper invitation, like the ones I made for our firefighter birthday party, but sometimes the convenience of an online invitation is hard to resist. Luckily, evite has this Lego-themed invitation, and I added a Ninjago drawing by our birthday boy, to complete the look.
For decorating the house, I hung our reusable birthday banners, customized with pictures of green Ninjago Lloyd ZX. I had in mind to do balloons with stuck-on Ninjago eyes, but I ran out of time!
I printed signs for the activities using Bonsai font and mounted them on green scrapbook paper. Each child got a Ninjago eyes T-shirt to wear when he arrived. This was their main party favor, and the shirts were a hit! It was really fun to see all the little Ninjagos running around the house together!
I failed to capture the partying kids in any decent poses – they were moving too fast! but here’s the birthday boy’s little brother sporting his custom shirt. You don’t need to make your own shirts to have great Ninjago accessories. I have definitely picked up a lot of Ninjago and other Lego shirts and toys at great prices on Zulily.com!
Ninjago birthday food ideas
As you can see from the sign in this picture, I had wanted to arrange fruit into a Serpentine, one of the Ninjago enemies, but due to limitations of daylight savings time, I just piled the fruit on a plate, and it was all gone in an instant anyway – I told you those Ninjago are fast!
For lunch, we had a variety of Japanese and Japanese-inspired fare, including California rolls and avocado rolls from the local supermarket, homemade Spam musubi by Steve, and plenty of gyoza dumplings, which were the kids’ favorite.
Instead of a cake, I made sushi using Rice Krispies. These Rice Krispy treat sushi are decorated with fruit roll-up for the “nori” and Swedish fish and fruit gummies for garnish. They were a lot of fun to make, though time-consuming. If you do it, I definitely recommend making a half batch at a time, as the Rice Krispy treats kept hardening before I could shape them all, and I ended up with several leftover globs.
Ninjago Birthday Activities
These were a blast, and you can read all the details in this post!
Happy birthday to our dear son! I am glad it was such a fun day.
Ultimate Pretzel Almond Bark
Warning: this stuff is addictive!
One day, Steve brought home some chocolate- and caramel- coated saltines, and I couldn’t stop eating until the the bag was gone!
When I saw recipes for caramel and chocolate pretzel bark, I knew it was going to be the perfect sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy treat. I based my recipe on the Salted Caramel Pretzel Bark from Mama Says What and I added almonds and some subtle spices to give it an extra rich taste.
- 8 oz mini pretzel twists
- 1 1/2 cups roasted salted almonds
- 16 oz semi-sweet dark chocolate chips or 16 oz bar baking chocolate, chopped
- 3/4 cup butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (my secret ingredient for a little kick!)
- preheat the oven to 350F
- line a baking sheet with aluminum foil
- layer pretzels and almonds on the foil (pictured below, top right)
- in a pot on the stove, melt butter and stir in brown sugar. Bring to boil and keep stirring until smooth and thick.
- Pour caramel over the pretzels and almonds (pictured below, middle left)
- bake in oven for five minutes
- sprinkle cinnamon and cayenne evenly over the mixture
- add chocolate on top and bake for another couple of minutes to melt
- use a spatula to smooth out the chocolate (pictured below, middle right)
- cool for 10 minutes at room temperature and move to the freezer for at least two hours
- break into small chunks
For maximum freshness, store the bark in a container in the freezer. Mine is in the chest freezer in our basement, and I would like to say that I burn enough calories going up and down the stairs to justify this treat, but that’s probably wishful thinking…
Gifts in a Jar – Put a Lid on it!
Steve likes to say that everything sounds better when spoken in a British accent… My version is that everything tastes better when it came in a pretty package. I love a project that can reuse an old item in a beautiful way – upcycling at its best! For the holidays this year, I decided to make a variety of gifts in a jar to give to our neighbors and the kids’ teachers. I saved glass jars of various shapes and sizes, and I’ll show how to clean and prep them below.
Here are a few ideas for how to make your own gifts in a jar:
- Large jars, like pasta sauce jars, are great for pancake mixes.
- The smallest ones, like jam and salsa jars, can be made into apothecary jars and filled with bath salts.
- Medium-sized jars, like almond butter jars, are perfect for hot chocolate mixes!
- Homemade granola is another delicious idea for a gift.
How to clean jars for reuse:
- start by peeling off as much of the label as possible
- soak the jar in some water and peel off more of the label
- if there’s sticky residue left, spray the jar with Goo Gone or vegetable oil and let it sit before a rubbing off the rest of the label
- run the jars and lids through the dishwasher, using a mesh laundry bag to keep the lids from flying around
- I finished off by spray painting any lids that had printing on them, for a clean look
Some more pictures of our dressed up holiday gifts:
I really love having something handmade for the holidays, and making several of the same gifts made the project more doable. The only real-world caveat I have is that these were very heavy to carry into school. Add our toddler in the baby carrier on my back, and I definitely broke a sweat. It was all worth it, though I might recommend a wagon if you are trying this…
Sesame Noodles with Chicken
I’ll admit I’m not the main cook in our family – thanks, Steve! – but I do have a few dishes that I rely on to get a good, healthy meal on the table, and this is one of them. Our whole family loves the taste of this take on Chinese sesame noodles, and I love that you can pack it full of veggies that the kids will eat. Since it can be served cold, it’s also a good meal to make ahead for hectic weeknights.
For the noodles:
- 5 medium carrots
- 1.5 bundles buckwheat noodles
- 1 cucumber
- 2 stalks green onions
- 1 1/3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken meat
For the sauce:
- 1/2 cup tahini, peanut butter, sunflower butter or a combination of these
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger powder
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tsp chili paste (I leave this on the side, when cooking for the kids)
- Boil the chicken until cooked. Cool and shred
- Shred carrots to similar width as noodles using mandolin or food processor. Boil until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Slice cucumbers into thick strips with a mandolin or knife.
- Slice green onions into long strips with a knife. Place in the bottom of a colander or sieve.
- Boil noodles according to instructions. Drain in a colander over the green onions, to soften the green onions.
- Mix all the above in a large bowl and then prepare the sauce (see below)
Here are the ingredients (sans chicken), waiting to be mixed:
Mix the ingredients for the sauce together and then stir into the noodle mixture. You can serve this dish hot, cold, or anywhere in-between.
H0pe you enjoy this addition to your family’s menu!
My Favorite French Toast – Panettone French Toast
I don’t spend that much time in the kitchen, so if you find a recipe here on Jewels’ blog, you be assured it will be easy to make. I love French toast, and this is my favorite way to make it come out perfectly delicious every time!
The secret is to use Italian panettone bread. Its rich, sweet flavor is the perfect starting point for French toast. Here’s the easy recipe that will serve 6:
- One panettone loaf – this time around, I actually found a loaf with chocolate chips!
- 1 cup yogurt
- 6 eggs, beaten
- Butter for pan frying
To prepare the French toast,
- slice the panettone bread into 1″ thick slices. You can do this the night before and let the bread dry out a bit.
- heat the pan to medium-high and melt butter
- beat the eggs and beat in the yogurt
- dip the slices of breast into the yogurt-egg mix
- pan fry on both sides until lightly brown