January 27, 2015

Let's Date!

Blue Cheese and Walnut Stuffed Dates wrapped in Bacon

I wish I had an image of these after they came out of the oven! 
Sadly, by then the party was in full swing,
 and I am terrible at putting photos before hearty appetites. 
Especially my own. 
And especially after a glass or two of wine. 
I feel it is safer to put that camera away...

None the less, trust me.
These little bites are bad ass.

If you are looking for something slightly different, something rich tasting but easy on the pocket, 
and something that can be made ahead for your next party (maybe Superbowl Sunday?!), 
these are easy to assemble, 
and are a nice diversion from the now seen-at-every-single-party-bacon-wrapped-scallops.

Or, you could serve them in a salad over some fresh greens with a nice balsamic vinaigrette (maybe Valentine's Day?!).

Any way you make them, mouths will be happy!

Makes a tray load

12 slices of bacon, thinly sliced, cut in half, par-cooked, drained and cooled
24 dried dates, pits removed (most brands the pits are removed for you)
1/4 cup of softened cream cheese
1/4 cup of softened blue cheese or gorgonzola
1/2 a cup of chopped walnuts or pecans

Balsamic glaze (if making an appetizer)
or Balsamic vinaigrette (if making a salad)

Tooth picks

Optional: Fresh spring greens for serving as a salad

You can make up to step 4 ahead of time; just wrap, refrigerate then bake before serving.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1. Cut your strips of bacon in half and par cook. Make sure they are still bendy so you can wrap them around the dates with ease. Drain and cool.
2. In the meantime, mix softened cream cheese, blue cheese and walnuts in a small bowl
3. Working one at a time (obviously), stuff the dates with the cream cheese, blue cheese and walnut mixture.
4. Wrap each stuffed date with a piece of bacon and pierce with a toothpick so they don't fall apart in the oven. Place on a large sheet pan lined with parchment.
5. Bake in the oven until the bacon is crisp and the dates are heated through, about 15 minutes.
6. Put on a serving platter and drizzle with the balsamic glaze.
Serve immediately
or toss the greens with the balsamic vinaigrette and place dates on top of the salad. Again, serve immediately.


Happy Superbowl Sunday and/or Valentine's Day!
To some, these may be interchangeable...

Label Everything!

 Okay, okay, one more Sculpey craft project
...or two...or three...
ah hell, who am I kidding!?! 
Get used to these regular Sculpey projects people...
Especially now that I've rediscovered labelling.

When I was teaching high school, my students used to make fun of me because I would label everything.
Tiny signs everywhere.
Signs labelling the paint brushes.
The paint.
The supply table.
The class folders.
The ceramic racks.
Everything had a place and every place had a label.
I can hear their voices now saying "uhh, Ms. Clark, is this the SINK!?" as they would point teasingly at my sign reading 'sink.'
Ha. ha. ha.
In my defense, some sinks were strictly for hand washing, others for paint brush washing, others for clay cup washing etc. 
In the art room it was all about control! 
(laughter abound!)

Well, anyway, here is where my two worlds collide; 
One, my current obsession with Sculpey, 
and two, my obsession with labelling things.

Taaa daaaa!

Decanter labels for PKR

Step one: roll Sculpey into balls
Step two: form into elongated ovals
Step three: flatten them out with the palm of your hand or a rolling pin...or a wine bottle works ironically well here!
Step four (not shown): Stamp labels and make holes with a tooth pick
Step five: bake per package instructions
Step 6: Brush with mod-podge to protect and seal, allow to dry, and string with ribbon.

You can find the alphabet, number and symbol stamps at any craft store in a variety of sizes and fonts.
Sadly, after buying these, I found the same exact size and font stamps at Walmart for $1.00;
a fraction of what I paid.
 Effing Walmart.



Cheese please!

Name labels for party favors

Irish Creme and Cafe Rica
Adult libations for my son's birthday party

Poor Todd will come home sometime soon after all of these snow days to find everything in our home labelled.
I can see it now!
Imagine the damage I can do in the kitchen alone!

Sculpey label heaven!

January 20, 2015

French Lentil Stew with Red Wine and Piave

Winter hollers soup.
I missed my New Year's lentils for longevity, health and prosperity, 
so maybe I can make up for it if I load up on them during my mid-week health craze.
I pulled this recipe together by marrying a few recipes I found in my cookbooks and online over the past few days, adapted it to our flavor palates, and actually made two versions; 
one vegetarian and brothy for me, 
and one thicker, stew-like version with thick cuts of Gary's smoked bacon for Todd.
Although the foundations were the same, and both very delicious, the outcomes were very different;
One, a resemblance of a super food, 
and the other,
 a resemblance of a heart stopper.

This is the beauty of cooking.
Choose your beast.

Serves 4-6 for a hearty meal 

1 cup of french green lentils (found in health food stores or the organic section at most high end grocery stores). You can use regular green lentils, but they tend to break down and get mushy, especially if you want leftovers or plan on freezing the soup/stew. The french green lentils hold their firmness with grace.

3 carrots, sliced into coins (or smaller if you have little ones)
1 rib of celery, including leaves, cleaned and chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 bunch of green onions (+-8), white parts only, sliced into coins
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 sprig of thyme, 1 spring of rosemary and 2 sprigs of sage
Olive oil for simmering

2 ripe tomatoes, diced (or a can of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped)
4 tablespoons of tomato paste
1/4 cup of red wine
6 cups of vegetable broth

grated Piave, Parmesan or Romano for serving
Crusty Bread

*For the even heartier, carnivorous version par-cook thick cut smoked bacon and add to the soup during the simmer step (I cut the recipe in half and used 3 strips, chopped. If you wish to make the entire recipe carnivorous, use 6 strips). For my PA friends, I recommend using Gary's thick cut, double-smoked bacon here!

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Remove from heat and soak the lentils for thirty minutes. Drain and rinse the lentils.
2. Meantime, saute the onion, green onion, celery, carrots, garlic, thyme, rosemary and sage until the onions are translucent and the carrots are tender (about 15 minutes).
3. Stir in the drained lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, and vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for an hour (*Add bacon here if you are using it. Make sure you par-cooked, drained and chopped it first).
5. Add red wine and simmer for about 15 minutes longer
6. Remove the sprigs left from thyme and rosemary. Taste soup. Salt and pepper if necessary.
7. Serve warm with shaved or grated Piave cheese and toast or crusty bread

*The recipe freezes and is left-over friendly, making it a healthy go-to meal!


January 12, 2015

Party Animals

My little man is five!
As he would say, "Holy wakkamoly!"

For the past few years I tell myself that I am going to just bring Elias to his favorite restaurant (Red Robin...ehem, no comment...), have the team of employees sing to, and embarrass him over a piece of molten chocolate cake, get him a balloon, and call it a day.
But, for some insane reason, I don't.

Something inside of me keeps me up for weeks on end making signs and banners, menu planning, cooking and baking, and this year, fashioning a million teeny tiny party hats for an army of plastic animals...
I guess this is what happens when a Master's degree in Art stays home with a son who is born in the middle of winter.
I can't resist.

Well, I can tell you it is all worth it when that little man comes out in the morning, jumping, laughing, kisses abound exclaiming "This is the best day EVER!" 
It is all worth it. 

Here is a photo spread of our day.
Elias' day.

I couldn't resist a little Guns 'n Roses reference to get people in the mood...

Activity Table

Party Animal Mantel
Thank you Pinterest...and snow days...

Gotta love Oriental Trading...

This is much easier in the morning than at night...

FYI, I was beat by a five year old...

The Watering Hole

I think I bought the straws and cups more for my enjoyment...

Party City has bags of tiny animals for a fraction of the cost I could find them anywhere else.
These were a Betty Crocker dark chocolate cupcake mix, then I made a cocoa cream cheese frosting.
I know it was a little Sandra Lee of me,
but it really was time saving, simple and delish.
I actually made them two weeks ahead of time, froze them, and frosted them the morning of the party.

Elias' Choice. Rarrrr.

Party Animal!
So cute!

Yes, we all party here...

This year's Poop and Ponder board.
What would you be?!
I don't know if a Yeti counts!?!

The Pocono Snake and Animal Farm Presentation!

Pete did an amazing job and kept both the adults and kids riveted for an hour and a half with a huge assortment of animals.
He was so professional, personable, knowledgeable and funny.
Thank you so much Pete for making our day great!

No family photo is complete without an alligator...

"A party without cake is just a meeting"
- Julia Child

Parting Gifts
(I know...more Sculpey...can't stop...)

Thank you to all of Elias' friends who came out to make today so special. 
It is not much of a celebration if you don't have loved ones to share the day, and a little bit of laughter, cake, and wine, with.
We love all of you party animals!

Cheers to FIVE!