S’mores Party!!!

Over the weekend, James and I threw a s’mores party- just for the fun of it. We got the idea from my bachelorette party, and decided to make it boys-allowed this time. We had so much fun putting things together, together.

I found some gorgeous lanterns at Michaels. We put some in the gazebo, and lining the steps so no one would trip in the dark. Also, we decorated the party area with these beautiful lights:

Pergola at Night

 

Along with your typical graham crackers and marshmallows, homemade chocolate chip cookies we an added bonus for s’mores making.

Lazy susan with graham crackers, marshmallows, and cookies. Extra bowls of marshmallows at either end of the table. 2 sterno-fuel fires, one at each end. An extra platter of s’mores ingredients. Fondue forks-a-plenty. Hershey bars scattered around the table, at least one per person.

S'mores

We ended up moving the appetizers to the same table. I had made bacon-wrapped smokies, which turned out to be the perfect savory alternative for roasting over the little fires. Taco dip was also present, along with strawberry shortcake brought by one of my awesome cousins, and this fabulous cheese plate:

New Zealander, Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Gouda, and Bruschetta Jack

New Zealander, Applewood Smoked Cheddar, Gouda, and Bruschetta Jack

We also had melted Brie. I love Brie.

Drinks included Corona, 2 flavors of Mike’s, and Smirnoff Ice, along with Lemonade, Tea, Water and Sodas.

It was a complete success! I can’t wait to do this again sometime!

S'mores Party Created with Nokia Smart Cam

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Celebrating Family

We have so much to be thankful for this year. We’re finally married, we’re finally together in our perfect little house, and we’re finally living the life we’ve always dreamed of. I never thought life would be this beautiful.

November morning at home

November morning at our home in Maryland

One of the biggest things we are thankful for this November is our enormously huge family. Each of us brought roughly 30 first cousins with us into this marriage, along with dozens of aunts and uncles. We love our new family more than anything. We’re looking forward to celebrating this with our second annual Day-After-Thanksgiving Christmas Movie Night.

Last year, we rounded up the cousins/aunts/uncles. Everyone brought their leftover desserts from Thanksgiving (which was a LOT of food).  I made my mom’s apple cider and my Italian grandmother’s Pastorelli cookies, both of which were a big hit with James’s family. The movie list? We went with family favorites: Charlie Brown’s Christmas and Elf.

It was the most fun I have ever had at a party that I was hosting. It was simple to put together and tons of fun for all involved. We can’t wait to do it again this year!

My Mom’s Hot Apple Cider

For years, my mom has always made the world’s greatest apple cider. I have the recipe myself now, and it has now become a fall tradition for me and James. I thought I’d be nice enough to share it with all of you. Happy Fall!

Ingredients:

1/2 gallon fresh apple cider

2 cups orange juice (no pulp it best)

1/4 cup honey

2 1/2inch cinnamon sticks (basically it’s 1 standard stick broken in half)

5 whole cloves

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Directions: Combine all ingredients into a pot on the stove. Bring to a boil. Lower temperature and simmer for approximately 1 hour.

Hazelnut French Toast

I love going out for breakfast, but now that I have my very own house and my very own kitchen, my restaurant budget shrank a bit. No worries though! The greatest creativity comes when you’re forced to change your ways of doing things.

This Sunday after church, James and I had brunch at our house before getting to work on the subfloors (we’re turning into serious D-I-Y homeowners). French toast is James’s favorite of the breakfast trifecta (waffles and pancakes are 2nd and 3rd, respectively). So while he got to work with the drill, I set out to make breakfast. While getting my ingredients together, I remembered that I had neglected to buy vanilla extract. So, for a substitute, what else but a little Frangelico! I know, I’m out of vanilla but I have imported hazelnut liqueur laying around…

Ingredients:

5 slices of bread (I used Nature’s Own Honey Wheat)

3 eggs

small handful of sugar (about 2-3 tbsp)

2-3 tsp Frangelico hazelnut liqueur

cinnamon and nutmeg (about 1/2 tsp of each, eyeball it)

strawberries, sliced and mixed with a bit of sugar

Wisk eggs, sugar, Frangelico, and spices. Heat frying pan to medium and melt a little butter in the pan. Dip bread slices in egg mixture and fry about 1 or 2 minutes on each side. Serve with strawberries and maple syrup.

New Stuffed Mushrooms with a Kick

The other day I decided to try stuffed mushrooms a whole new way. Usually I use the recipe that I’ve posted previously (mostly spinach and mozzarella). In an effort to branch out and add new greens to my diet, yesterday I came up with a whole different kind of mushroom.

You know, a lot of people are scared of swiss chard (including me, until a few days ago actually), but it really has a nice, surprising nutty flavor when cooked. That’s what gave me the idea for this recipe. The earthy flavor of cremini mushrooms really goes great with the nutty flavor of cooked swiss chard. It’s the ingredient that eaters will never guess. I only made a small portion for about 7 cremini mushrooms, but you can add things to taste.

Ingredients (adjust as necessary to taste):

3-5 large leaves of swiss chard (chopped fine, stems removed)

1/4 cup (or more!) colby-jack cheese, shredded or crumbled

a little pepper and salt

little garlic powder

tiny bit of cayenne pepper (a little goes a LONG way)

about 1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2-1 tbsp cream cheese, as necessary to bind it together

7 cremini mushrooms (baby bella), stems removed

Combine swiss chard, cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and Dijon mustard. Mis until swiss chard is coated evenly. Add cream cheese and mix well.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Stuff the mushrooms (overstuffed is great!) and arrange on baking sheet. Sprinkle with a hint of paprika. Bake at 400°F for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool for a minute or two but serve while warm.

My mother and I loved these. The cayenne gives it a little kick, and the Dijon and paprika reminded me of a picnic. I’ll be making these again now that summer barbeque season is on the way!

Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

The first time I made these, my family fell in love. My mom in particular LOVES these. I’ve made them for parties, but they’re wonderful as a side at dinner too. The inspiration for these came from something I found on the food network, but having made them so long I changed a few things along the way. The amounts are a rough estimate, so don’t worry if you have to change things.

Ingredients:

20-30 Cremini (baby bella) mushrooms

bag of pre-washed baby spinach

2-3 tbsp cream cheese

1 bag (2 cups) shredded mozzarella

1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano

salt & pepper

1/4 tsp garlic powder

Directions:

Rinse and dry mushrooms. Remove stems. Set mushroom caps aside.

Finely chop the spinach. If you’d like to use the food processor, there’s nothing stopping you. I like chopping spinach, though, and I think it gives it a nice texture.

In a medium bowl, combine spinach, mozzarella, parmesan, salt & pepper, and garlic powder. The mix in cream cheese. I like to use a fork to mash it in there. Be persistent, it might take a little muscle, but when you’re done you should have a soft, creamy mixture. You might need to add more cream cheese. In fact last time I made this, I used almost 4 oz. It just depends on what type of consistency you’re looking for.

Line baking sheet with aluminum foil. Stuff each mushroom cap with some of the spinach mixture (I like it when they’re overflowing and you have to eat them with a fork and knife). Its ok if you crowd them a little to fit them on the sheet, since mushrooms shrink a little when cooked. Bake at 375°F for about 10-12 minutes. Really, it’s hard to over-cook a mushroom, and you want everything to be soft and melted.

Smith Island Cake -A.K.A. Why I love Maryland

Not many people outside of Maryland have ever had it. In fact, with the exception of people on the Eastern Shore, not many Marylanders have had it. Smith Island Cake (also known, along with crabs, as God’s Gift to Maryland) looks like this:

Smith Island Cake, as pictured in National Geographic

8-15 layers of yellow cake, with fudgey chocolate icing in between. Seriously, this is the richest cake you’ll ever taste. It’s AMAZING!

They actually make it by cooking each layer separately in its own cake pan, like 8-10 round cake pans with a tablespoon or two of batter in them. Named in 2008 as the official dessert of the State of Maryland, It comes from Smith Island (go figure), a remote island in the Chesapeake Bay that is only accessible by boat. The remoteness and inaccessibility of the island have made the place somewhat of a time capsule. Discovered by John Smith in the 1600s, the people of Smith Island still retain a sort of Elizabethan dialect, as well as an accent that separates them from the rest of Maryland.

Surprisingly, right in the middle of Maryland where most Marylanders live (between DC and Baltimore), Smith Island Cake is almost impossible to find. Luckily for the rest of the world, you can order it online at www.smithislandbakingco.com and have it shipped to your door in 2 days or less. I think I know what I want for my birthday…