Monday, April 30, 2012

Meatless Monday: Bruschetta

I have made Bruschetta a few times, but this time I have really outdone myself!  Actually, I should probably give my mom credit for this HUGE discovery.  What is the HUGE discovery, you ask?  Bread.  All this time, I have been using baguettes to make bruschetta.  Then one day my mom brought over a big loaf of Italian bread from Whole Foods and now I will never use anything else to make bruschetta.  When I used baguettes, the bread became so hard that it was difficult to bite into and all the toppings fell off easily.  But when I used the big loaf of Italian bread, the bread was adequately toasted so that it was firm but not hard to bite into and the toppings stayed nicely in place.  Bruchetta perfection!  My favorite bruschetta recipe comes from Simply Recipes.  Let's get started!


4-5 tomatoes on the vine
2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 loaf of Italian bread
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese


1.  Adjust oven rack to the second to the top position and preheat oven to 450°F.
2.  While the oven is heating, chop the tomatoes, garlic and basil. 

3.  Put tomatoes, garlic, 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and 1 tsp vinegar in a bowl and mix.  Add the chopped basil.   Add salt and pepper to taste.

4.  Slice your bread on a diagonal about ½ inch thick slices. Place bread on a foil covered baking sheet and coat one side of each slice with olive oil using a pastry brush. 
5.  Flip the bread on the baking sheet so that the olive oil side is facing down. You will want to toast them in the top rack in your oven, so you may need to do these in batches depending on the size of your oven. Once the oven has reached 450°F, place a tray of bread slices in the oven on the top rack. Toast for 5-6 minutes, until the bread just begins to turn golden brown.

6.  Remove the bread from the oven and flip it so the olive oil side is facing up. Spoon the tomato topping onto the bread slices and top with Parmesan cheese.
7.  Place in the oven for 1-2 minutes so the tomato topping and cheese are heated through.
8.  Slice the pieces in half and serve immediately.

You can freeze the leftover Italian bread or it makes for yummy toast with jam or jelly too!

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Bun in the Oven

That's right!  Baby #3 is on the way and set to arrive in October!  I'm more scared for this baby to come than I was for Ava and Sidney (and that's staying a lot because I was pretty scared with Ava).  Sidney, my youngest, was such an easy baby and (knock on wood) has been an easy kid.  I am certain my luck has run out.  I think this next kid is going to give me a run for my money.  Anyway, this picture above is how we announced the pregnancy.  I used white tape to make the numbers.

This is how I told Tim:
It probably would have been cuter if I had a nice pregnancy test rather than the Dollar Store test!

When I was pregnant with Sidney, I did the typical "Big Sister" t-shirt for Ava to announce the pregnancy at a family get together.

And we took our family picture with the pregnancy test.

My favorite pregnancy announcement was when I was pregnant with Ava.  First, we told my family on our annual family vacation.  I bought my parents a little bib that said "New Vintage" (My dad and Tim really like wine and we used to go to Napa Valley all the time with my parents when Tim and I lived in San Francisco.  I bought the bib in Napa long before Ava came along.).

Then when we got back from the family vacation (Tim and I were living in Manhattan at the time) we went to Times Square to one of the web cams and told Tim's family to get online.  Here's what they saw:

Another cute idea I thought of was to pin this sign to your belly:

  How did you announce your pregnancy?  Any other cute ideas?  Please tell!

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vegetable Paella (Belated Meatless Monday)

I am still trying to get caught up with life after my trip to NYC.  My desk looks like Sidney had her way with it.  Papers everywhere.  Stacks of mail, some opened, some not.  Bills, so many bills.  To do lists stuck to every surface.  It seriously overwhelms me.  Of course, I'd forget it all and go back to NY in a heartbeat.

Meatless Monday: As it turns out, we eat a lot of meatless meals.  Since I was a kid, I've never been a big meat eater and over the years my husband has learned to enjoy vegetarian meals.  We're even attempting to grow some of our own vegetables and herbs this year.  Our town built a community garden and it just opened a couple of weeks ago.  The weather had been amazing lately so while I was in NY, Tim, Ava and my mother-in-law planted our seedlings in our plot.  Then in the past couple of days the temperatures have dropped to almost freezing at night!  I hope our garden is still in tact.  I have yet to see our little garden, but they took some pictures for me.

 Ava and Nana working hard.
 Ava picked out the purple sunflower pinwheel for our garden.
Tim and Ava with the finished product.

Back to Belated Meatless Monday.  The first time I made this meal I ended up in the emergency room with severe burns to my hand.  The second time I made this meal, I actually burned myself again, but nothing that required a hospital visit (I don't think I mentioned this to Tim - I'm sure he would have required that I take a safety class on how to avoid burning myself when cooking just like with the knife incidents.  I sense you are siding with Tim right now.).  I'm happy to say (knock on wood) that I have not had any bad experiences when making this meal since the second burning.  I think I learned my lesson.  If you are brave enough to try this out, you will be well rewarded.  This is such a deliciously filling and healthy (I found the recipe in Shape magazine) meal.  And of course, there will be left overs.


6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1/8 tsp saffron
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
2 clove garlic, minced
1 14-ounce can low-sodium diced tomatoes
1 ½ cups short-grain brown rice
1 small bunch thin asparagus, cut into 2-inch lengths
6 canned artichoke hearts, halved
1 cup frozen peas (I forgot these in the freezer when I took the picture above!)


1.  Preheat oven to 400°F. 

2.  In a saucepan, bring broth to a simmer and stir in saffron, paprika, cayenne, and salt.  Remove from heat; set aside.

3.  Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat.  I use a 3 quart skillet and it's just big enough.  Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

4.  Add tomatoes and rice to the skillet; stir to combine. 

5.  Pour reserved broth into skillet and bring to a boil. 
6.  Cover and place in the oven for 60 minutes.  I use foil to cover the top of the skillet.  Be sure to use your oven mitt if covering with foil!

7.  Remove skillet from oven, uncover, and place asparagus and artichokes on top, pushing vegetables into the rice. Scatter peas over the top. Cover and return to oven for 10 minutes. Don't forget to use your oven mitt to put the skillet back in the oven, that's where I went wrong...
8.  Uncover and cook for 5 minutes more, or until all broth is absorbed.
9.  Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

I forgot to take a picture of the paella when it came out of the oven.  It looked much prettier then.  This picture above was taken after dinner.  It still makes me hungry just looking at it.

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Monday, April 23, 2012

New York, New York!

Tim officially wins the Husband of the Year award this year.  For Christmas, he surprised me with a trip to NYC with my mom!  I think he knew more than I did that I needed a break from the kids.  Living near both sets of grandparents gives me the great benefit of having little breaks hear and there.  But getting away for 4 days meant not having to feed the kids, instead I ate all my meals uninterrupted; I didn't have to put anyone to bed at night, instead I got to read the Hunger Games (highly recommend!) before falling asleep; I didn't have to worry about being on the kids' schedule, instead my mom and I roamed around the city doing whatever we pleased.  Heaven!

My mom and I decided to wait until April to go to NY.  I have such great memories of April in NYC - my daughter, Ava, was born in April 2008 when we lived in Manhattan.  We were having such amazing spring weather.  I remember eating lunch on the grass in Central Park (maternity leave is the BEST!) the day before Ava was born.  And when our stay at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital was over, we popped Ava into her stroller car seat and WALKED home from the hospital.  We lived on the same block as the hospital, so it wasn't a far walk.  But it was so beautiful!  My mom and I knew we wanted to wait until April to go back to NY.  And NY did not disappoint.  The weather was just as beautiful all weekend as the day Ava was born.

Here are some highlights from our trip and some things you CANNOT miss if you go to NY.

Live! with Kelly
 This is me waiting in line outside ABC studios on the Upper West Side.  It's really easy to get tickets.  You just have to remember to request them early enough.  Go to their website to find out how to request tickets.
Kelly's co-host was Seth Meyers from SNL.  Kelly and Seth were hilarious together!  I love them both.  They had an animal expert on that day with all these baby animals - super cute!

9/11 Memorial
Tim and I moved to Chicago before the 9/11 Memorial was built.  It was so neat to see how much had been developed since we left.  The area was totally unrecognizable to me.  So far they have built the North and South Pools (the South Pool is pictured above) where the North and South World Trade Center Towers stood, and you can see the Survivor Tree.  They structure for the 9/11 Museum is built but it's not scheduled to open until late 2012.  There is a Visitors Center where you can watch a video and purchase gifts.  We spent about 20-30 minutes walking around the grounds and Visitors Center.  It's also very easy to get tickets to see the 9/11 Memorial if you order them online in advance.

Theater District in Times Square
We met up with my girlfriend, Jenna, a couple of times.  Jenna and I met when our husbands were in school at Kellogg.  Now she lives with her husband and 3 kids in Battery Park!  She has a great blog, Mommy in Manhattan.  It was so fun to see Jenna and her kids and catch up - I so miss having her two floors above me!  We all went to dinner and saw How To Succeed In Business with Nick Jonas - he did a great job!

Alice's Tea Cup
My mom and I were so bummed that there was a 2 hour wait to eat lunch at Alice's Tea Cup on the Upper West Side.  Next time we'll know to go during the week and not on a Saturday afternoon!

Levain Bakery
How you could live in NY and not know about Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side is a mystery to me.  They have the BEST cookies I have ever eaten in all my life.  My husband's only request when I left for NY was to bring him back some Levain's cookies.  We bought 20 4 bucks a do the math.  But it was a small price to pay for the man who made this all happen.  And yes, there was a line of hungry New Yorkers out the door and down the street waiting patiently for their cookies.  Totally worth it.

Upper West Side & Hell's Kitchen - My old neighborhood
 One Columbus Place - the place Tim and I called home.  Our apartment building straddled the line between the Upper West Side and Hell's Kitchen.  It was the BEST location.  We lived a couple of blocks from Central Park, there were tons of restaurants down 9th Avenue, and the Columbus Circle subway stop could get you almost anywhere in the city.  I couldn't live anywhere else in the city.

St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital - This is where Ava was born and where our lives changed forever.

Burrito Box - When I was pregnant with Ava I ate here almost everyday, sometimes twice a day!  I just had to go back and have a chicken taco with avocado and salsa even though we were eating dinner in an hour!  I'm hungry again just thinking about it.

I can't believe I got to go back to NY.  It was so wonderful to spend time with my mom and relive all our old memories.  I feel so rested and I'm a much happier mommy!  Thanks Tim - I love you!  You are an amazing husband and dad!

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Shortcut Cake Pops

I have followed Bakerella's website for a few years now but I have never tried to make her famous Cake Pops.  Until now!  There are many ways you can go about making Cake Pops, but for my first attempt, I decided to stick with an easier approach that anyone could do.  Here we go!

Box of cake mix (Any flavor you want, I used Betty Crocker Super Moist Yellow Cake Mix)
Ingredients required for the cake (usually oil and eggs)
Frosting (I used Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy Cream Cheese Frosting)
Lollipop sticks (You can find these at any craft store)
2 bags Wilton Candy Melts
Decorations (You could use white chocolate bark for drizzling or sprinkles or candies)
Mini Baking Cups
Craft Foam

1.  Bake your cake and let it cool completely.

2.  Using your hands, crumble the cake into a bowl.

3.  Add the entire tub of frosting to the bowl and use your hands to combine with the crumbled cake.  This is kind of messy.

4.  Form your cake pop batter into small balls, about 3-4 tablespoons each.
5.  Once you have formed all your pops (a standard size cake will make around 45-50 pops) put them in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours or the freezer for half and hour or so.
6.  Just before the cake pops are ready to come out of the refrigerator/freezer, get your supplies ready (lollipop sticks, craft foam) and begin melting the candy melts in the microwave.

7.  Dip a lollipop stick in the melted chocolate and push the stick 2/3 through a cold cake pop.

8.  Dip the pop in the melted chocolate.  I use a spoon to help cover the pop.  If you move it around in the chocolate to much it will start to fall off.

9.  Gently tap the lollipop stick on the edge of the bowl to remove the excess chocolate.

10.  Stick the lollipop stick into the craft foam and leave it there until the chocolate dries.

11.  You can also decorate the pops while they're in the craft foam.  If you plan to use sprinkles, you'll need to add them quickly as the chocolate dries fast.  I melted some white chocolate bark and used a fork to drizzle it on on the cake pops.

12.  After all the chocolate dried, I put them inside of mini baking cups on a platter.  If they don't all get eaten (unlikely), they will keep for a week in the refrigerator.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Ava's Dora the Explorer Birthday Party

I am amazed that this party actually happened.  My girls have been sick with allergy problems for a week (and they are still suffering!).  I thought for sure we'd have to postpone the party.  But I was wrong!  Here are some pictures of the food and decorations.

The Birthday Cake
I bought the cake at Walmart!  It tasted great and was much cheaper than going to a bakery.

Cake Pops

I don't care for cake but I loved these cake pops!  I'll post the recipe later this week.

Table Centerpieces
To make the bags: I bought purple gift bags and cut off the handles.  Then I printed the backpack faces using this template on colored paper.  Then I cut out the face and glued it to the bag.  I put craft foam at the bottom of the bags to hold the sticks and decorations in place. Then I stuffed tissue paper over the craft foam and placed purple flowers on top.

Dessert Table Decorations
 I found these large cups at Party City.  I put craft foam at the bottom to hold the sticks in place, and tissue paper and flowers on top.  

I found these cute tin purses at Walmart around Valentine's Day.  You could tie balloons from them for decoration.  I knew my girls would want to carry them around so I just set them out by the desserts.

Party Hat
I bought the party hats at Party city and decorated them with pom pom balls.

Number 4 Collage
I printed pictures of the highlights of Ava's past year and arranged them in the number 4.

Balloon Wreath
Click here for instructions on how I made this balloon wreath.

Dora Helium Balloon
I got this balloon at Deals.  It only cost $3!!

Happy Birthday Ava!  I love you!

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