Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Tutorial (Footballs for Super Bowl)

I absolutely love chocolate covered strawberries. There's just something about the combination of hardened chocolate and soft, sweet strawberries that makes my taste buds sing.

In honor of the Super Bowl-- which is coming up this Sunday, February 5th, for those who don't follow American football--I put together this tutorial.

If you're going to a Super Bowl party, this snack is sure to wow your friends and family. Even if you won't be watching the game, you can still whip up a batch of these football strawberries and share them with loved ones--or eat them all yourself!


Chocolate Covered Strawberry Footballs 
For Super Bowl Sunday

Ingredients:

1 pound strawberries
Milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate chips or melting chocolate (approximately 2 cups/12oz)
White chocolate chips or melting chocolate (approximately 1 cup/6oz)

Directions:

Wash strawberries, and allow them to dry completely. Keep the stems on the strawberries.


Melt milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate on the stove or in the microwave. I prefer the microwave because I have found that it provides greater control over the melting process.

My melting process is as follows: Put chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave on high for 40 seconds. Remove and stir. Return to microwave for 20 seconds, and stir. Return to microwave for 15 seconds, and stir. If more melting is needed, return to microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring in between.


Grab the leaves of each strawberry, hold it over the bowl of melted chocolate, and gently run chocolate over the strawberry using a spoon. Allow the excess to drip off into the bowl. Scroll down to watch a video I made to explain this step further.


Place chocolate covered strawberries on a cookie sheet covered in plastic wrap, parchment paper, or wax paper. Allow strawberries to dry until the chocolate is fully hardened.


When hardened, melt the white chocolate. Unlike the dark chocolate, you don't want to over-melt the white chocolate, or it will be runny and difficult to work with.


Pour melted white chocolate into a piping bag (also called a pastry bag) with a thin, circular tip.


Draw lines of white chocolate on strawberries as shown. You will need to work quickly so the white chocolate does not harden in the piping bag.


Place finished strawberries on a pan without a lining. (The lining may move and smudge your beautiful lines.) Allow white chocolate to dry fully before transporting strawberries.


Happy Super Bowl!



Chocolate Covered Strawberry Footballs 
For Super Bowl Sunday

Ingredients:
1 pound strawberries
Milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate chips or melting chocolate (approximately 2 cups/12oz)
White chocolate chips or melting chocolate (approximately 1 cup/6oz)

Directions:
  • Wash strawberries, and allow them to dry completely. Keep the stems on the strawberries.
  • Melt milk, semisweet, or dark chocolate on the stove or in the microwave. I prefer the microwave because I have found that it provides greater control over the melting process.
  • My melting process is as follows: Put chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl, and microwave on high for 40 seconds. Remove and stir. Return to microwave for 20 seconds, and stir. Return to microwave for 15 seconds, and stir. If more melting is needed, return to microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring in between.
  • Grab the leaves of each strawberry, hold it over the bowl of melted chocolate, and gently run chocolate over the strawberry using a spoon. Allow the excess to drip off into the bowl. Scroll down to watch a video I made to explain this step further. 
  • Place chocolate covered strawberries on a cookie sheet covered in plastic wrap, parchment paper, or wax paper. Allow strawberries to dry until the chocolate is fully hardened. 
  • When hardened, melt the white chocolate. Unlike the dark chocolate, you don't want to over-melt the white chocolate, or it will be runny and difficult to work with.
  • Pour melted white chocolate into a piping bag (also called a pastry bag) with a thin, circular tip. Draw lines of white chocolate on strawberries as shown. You will need to work quickly so the white chocolate does not harden in the piping bag. 
  • Place finished strawberries on a pan without a lining. (The lining may move and smudge your beautiful lines.) Allow white chocolate to dry fully before transporting strawberries.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Kitchen Organization without a Pantry

We currently live in a two-bedroom rental house with limited storage space. In order to keep our quarters clean and organized, we are very selective about the items we buy, and we try not to keep junk around.

Our kitchen isn't huge, but the amount of cabinet space it has is amazing. Whoever designed it did a fantastic job. Since we moved in almost two years ago, I have moved things around several times in order to find the most ideal setup. I think I've finally found it.

Of course, the majority of our cabinet space is devoted to dishes, utensils, pots, and pans. However, since I don't have a pantry, I had to set a few cabinets aside for food. These are the two cabinets above the sink.

And these are the cabinets to the left of and above the stove. The first contains spices, assorted cooking and baking supplies (honey, molasses, baking soda, baking powder, peanut butter, and extra spices), and sweets. The second holds cookbooks, vitamins, and our "junk" box (medicine, scissors, tape, batteries, and other random items). Have you seen my spice cabinet organization tutorial? Watch it here.

I buy in bulk to cut down on grocery store trips, so I needed one more shelf for food. This is one of the two largest cabinets. it is currently my favorite cabinet because it has unused space. What a beautiful sight!


How do you organize your pantry items?

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Weekend in Louisville

 Mr. Handsome and me with our dental school friends

This weekend, we drove up to Louisville, Kentucky, for a 36-hour visit with friends. We arrived Saturday afternoon and met up with three couples at a pizza joint called Mellow Mushroom. The pizza was delicious but very crunchy--a great workout for the jaw muscles.

The first couple are close friends from Mr. Handsome's dental school years that we try to see every several months. The second couple are friends of theirs that I also know from the organization I worked for before getting married. The third couple are folks who are friends of the first couple.

After a simple dinner at the second couple's apartment, we chatted until the wee hours of the morning. Mr. Handsome and I slept on a queen-sized air bed, which, surprisingly, stayed inflated the entire night. Mr. Handsome has never been a big fan of air mattresses because he says he always ends up on the floor after about five hours, but this experience may help change his mind.

Before heading home, we went to church and then ordered off the lunch menu at The Cheesecake Factory. Have you ever been to that restaurant? This one was super fancy on the inside, with massive panels of glass hanging from the ceiling and huge pillars scattered throughout the dinning room. Our $10 meals were delicious, but the one downside was that it took forever to choose from the 394830 choices that the menu offered.

Oh, and after the church service, we took a random picture in the sanctuary and sent it to my in-laws, only to find out that their pastor had gone to the very same church during seminary and even knew some of the people in the picture. It sure is a small world!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

My New Hobby

I've never been a fan of running. (That's an understatement.) We have a small, outdoor track near our house, so I attempted to get into it this summer, but by about the second lap, my legs would start itching fiercely. Not to mention that it was 95 degrees from June through September. Don't get me wrong, we had a beautiful summer, but it was a bit too hot for outdoor running.

So I called it quits and went back to using the elliptical at the gym. Well, about six weeks ago, I decided to give it another try, this time on the indoor track. I  wanted to prove to myself that I could successfully go on a run without experiencing the terrible itch.

Even after a few runs, the itch wasn't going away. I would stop as soon as it started and rarely went more than half a mile. Mr. Handsome encouraged me to keep trying. "Just push through, and it will get better," he assured me. "Keep your mind focused on something else."

I decided to give it a few more tries, and rather than stop at the first sign of discomfort, I just focused on the music I was listening to through my headphones and willed myself to forget about the terrible itch. After pushing through on two runs, I was cured!

As an incentive to keep going, I found a great deal on a pair of New Balance running shoes in my favorite color. It's amazing how your perspective on running can change when you have pretty shoes to look down at. It really is all in the shoes.

Not sure how long this hobby will last (check back with me in six months), or whether I will be able to increase my distance past a mile or two, but for now, I'm pretty psyched about it. What are your thoughts on running?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Zucchini Meatloaf Recipe

Earlier this week, I was craving meatloaf, but I've never really loved the idea of serving up a big hunk of ground beef. It may be tasty, but I'm a big advocate of adding vegetables to every dish I possibly can.

Still craving meatloaf, I decided to experiment and add equal parts of zucchini and ground beef. At lunchtime, I put a big smile on my face and told Mr. Handsome that we would be having zucchini meatloaf for dinner. "Are you sure that's a good idea?" he asked, trying to look excited but obviously a bit nervous. "It will be great," I assured him, although I have to admit I wasn't sure it would be.

I am thrilled to report that the experiment turned out great. Boy was I relieved! For all you meatloaf and veggie lovers, my recipe is below.

Mr. Handsome is really into making memes, so he made the one above for my post. What do you think?

Zucchini Meatloaf

Using a food processor or a food grinder attachment with a KitchenAid Mixer, process two cups of zucchini. If you don't have either of those contraptions, a simple grater will work just as well.


Doesn't that green mush look extremely appetizing? Let's zoom in on it, just for kicks and giggles.


Add processed zucchini to a large mixing bowl, and mix in ground beef, breadcrumbs, tomato juice or milk, onion, eggs, and pepper. Place in a loaf pan.


Place bacon on top, and cover with topping. Bake at 375F for 50 minutes to 1 hour.


Enjoy!



Zucchini Meatloaf

Ingredients:
2 cups ground beef
2 cups zucchini
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup tomato juice or milk
1 small onion, minced
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 strips of bacon (optional)

Topping: 3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon dry mustard (optional)

Directions:
1. Using a food processor or a food grinder attachment with a KitchenAid Mixer, process two cups of zucchini. If you don't have either of those contraptions, a simple grater will work just as well.

2. Add processed zucchini to a large mixing bowl, and mix in ground beef, breadcrumbs, tomato juice or milk, onion, eggs, and pepper. Place in a loaf pan.


3. Place bacon on top, and cover with topping. Bake at 375F for 50 minutes to 1 hour. Enjoy!

Monday, January 23, 2017

A Train Station, a Street Car, and a Bony Cow

As many of you know, Mr. Handsome is a hobbyist painter. He took classes as a child but "put down his brush" for almost 20 years. Last year for Christmas, his coworkers bought him a starter oil painting kit (with guidance from me), and he started watching Bob Ross tutorials.

Thirteen months later, he has created a couple dozen works of art. Painting has been a great stress reliever, and he has enjoyed branching out into different styles.

A few months ago, Mr. Handsome did a painting for my brother and sister-in-law as a wedding present, which I shared with you. For his brother and sister-in-law's wedding, Mr. Handsome painted the old train station in the town where his sister-in-law grew up.


Inspired by our trip to New Orleans and our ride on a historic street car, Mr. Handsome created this work of art:


Out of all the paintings Mr. Handsome has done, my favorite is the bird he painted for my birthday last year, and my second favorite is this farm scene. He says the cow looks too bony, but I think it's cute. He rolled his eyes when I gave it a prominent spot in our kitchen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pots and Pans

I've told you about my bachelor brother-in-law who lives nearby and enjoys my cooking (I usually bring him leftovers when we see him for Bible study each week, and sometimes we have him over for dinner on the weekends.) Well, he gave us a wonderful Christmas gift that he came up with all on his own. Such a pleasant surprise!

Have you heard of Copper Chef? They sell a unique line of pots and pans. I hadn't heard of the company until we received a Copper Chef pan for Christmas, but apparently they are "as seen on TV." Sometimes that can be a red flag, but not in this case.

I have used our new pan several times this month, and it works great. The best part is that you don't have to use oil. All my other pots and pans are ceramic (aside from my cast iron skillet), and they are wonderful, too, but this one is especially great.

The one downside is that, like ceramic pots and pans, it can only tolerate low to medium heat. (I made sure to remind Mr. Handsome to use the cast iron skillet is he wants to turn up the temperature.)

I am not receiving any sort of compensation for this post. I'm just curious what your thoughts are on pots and pans. There are so many different types. Which do you prefer?


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Neighborhood Cats

We have several cats in our neighborhood that wander through our yard daily. They don't seem to be strays, so I'm thinking each of them belongs to someone but is allowed out of the house.

When we moved in almost two years ago, there was a single black cat with a white stripe down his front that would come to our backdoor once a week (usually on Wednesdays...go figure) looking for food. I started giving him small bits of cooked meat from time-to-time, and over a period of months, his appearances became more and more frequent.

Soon, it got to the point where he came running over anytime I started cooking, even when the doors and windows were completely closed. One day, another cat started doing the same thing. This one was completely black. They would show up at different times, and they were always begging for food.

Earlier this year, a sweet little black cat with white paws and a white nose started appearing. His meow sounds like the cry of a baby, so you can imagine how startled I was when I was upstairs and heard it for the first time. He doesn't beg as much as the others do, but when he does, I almost always give him something because he's just so cute.

A couple weeks ago, he approached the backdoor, and the original cat, clearly not approving, came rushing over. The original cat stepped right up to the door and lunged at the other one when he tried to come up next to him. This went on for a few minutes, as the cute cat slowly inched his way closer to the door. They both eventually left.

Last weekend, we were watching the Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys football game. We were having trouble getting the channel we needed, so we cracked the door open and put the antenna outside. (We don't have TV service.)

About an hour into the game, Mr. Handsome shouted, "Cat!" and we both rushed over to the door to find that the cute cat with white paws had managed to push the door open and was halfway into our house. I gently pushed him back and pushed the door closed as much as I could.

For the next two hours, he tried to open that door. He would stick his little white paw inside and try to squeeze his way in. I couldn't help but take a couple pictures. We kept putting things in front of the door, but he kept pushing them out of the way.

Of course, we would have loved to bring him in and pet him, but we're just too concerned about fleas. Mr. Handsome's family had a battle with fleas when he was a kid, and it took a very long time to get rid of them.

Despite our refusal to let him into our house, the cat with white paws often sits by our front door waiting for us to come outside. He always brightens my day. We have seen a few other cats around (one that is a beautiful tan color), but they have never approached the door. Do you have cats in your neighborhood?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Road Trip Entertainment?


We have family that lives several hours away (although we have some relatives nearby, too), so Mr. Handsome and I do quite a bit of driving. Consequently, we're always looking for new forms of road trip entertainment.

On shorter excursions, we talk, turn on the radio, or plug our phones into the headphone jack and play Pandora, but when we take longer treks, we often find ourselves searching for other forms of entertainment. Mr. Handsome enjoys listening to mysteries and spy thrillers, although it can be difficult to find books that aren't heavy in language and inappropriate content.

While we were on a road trip with Mr. Handsome's family over the summer, the crew was getting a little antsy, so I came up with the idea of putting a Tim Hawkins comedy DVD into a computer and then plugging the computer into the van's headphone jack. It worked, and before long, everyone was howling with laughter.

This fall, I started scouring Amazon for comedy CDs and came across a few that looked good. The one pictured above is clean, family-friendly comedy with a Christian bent, and it turned out to be quite entertaining. Each of the twenty routines are three to five minutes long. And I was able to purchase it used for only a few dollars.

Do you have suggestions for clean road trip entertainment?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Music Themed Bridal Shower

I just came across these photos and realized I hadn't yet shared them with you. A few weeks before Mr. Handsome's youngest brother married Sarah during a beautiful December ceremony on the East Coast, his grandmother threw a wedding shower for Sarah.

The shower was music themed, as Sarah is a professional, classically trained musician. Everything was very beautifully done! I wasn't able to attend because Mr. Handsome had to work that weekend, so we couldn't make the seven-hour drive, but my in-laws sent me photos.







The game they played was created by Mr. Handsome's grandmother. Guests had to finish the story using music related words. In case you want to try it, I posted the answers as a comment below.

Music for the Shower


The ______ to a perfect day is to have everybody in _______.

As you arrive at your wedding, may you ________ into the church on _________ with your family there to __________ you. Rumor has it that you will be wearing __________ on your feet with __________ on your toes. Your wedding planner will greet you and __________ in with ideas from her _________.

Your wedding planner will remind the groom to ____ _____ and not to fall to ______. It is difficult to have a wedding if the groom is __________. Also, be sure your groom knows you want the best man to be a __________.

The ________ of the ceremony is usually a member of the church ___________.

When you place your _______ on your finger, it is a _________ that you are no longer going through life _________.

Some couples ______ _____ as they leave the ceremony.

A good choice for the meal for your reception is ______ ________. Make every effort to keep the groom away from the _______. As you look at your gift table you will notice that many people have taken time to _______ their gifts.

It is always risky to have the best man __________ a toast. If it is too long, have your maid of honor ready to _______ in.

As you leave for your life together, it is our wish that you will have ________ happiness and ________ stress.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Mayan Rice Recipe

While we were in Mexico, we enjoyed a traditional Mayan lunch of chicken, pork, rice, beans, vegetables, homemade tortillas, fruit, and hibiscus iced tea. Mr. Handsome and I agreed that it was one of the best meals we had ever had.

When we returned home, I was inspired to make traditional Mayan rice. Although it doesn't taste identical to the rice we had in Mexico (there is still a flavor I'm missing), we both really enjoyed it.

Here's the recipe, as promised. Have you ever had traditional Mayan food?

Traditional Mayan Rice

Ingredients:
1 cup brown rice
2.5 cups chicken broth
1 green pepper, chopped
1 can black beans, drained
1/4 onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Salt to taste

2 chicken breasts
1 Tablespoon butter
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions:
In a large stockpot, combine rice, chicken broth, green pepper, black beans, onion, and 3-4 garlic cloves. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, and simmer covered for 40 minutes.


Just before 40 minutes is up, cook chicken in a skillet with butter, ground pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cumin, 1 clove garlic, oregano, and crushed red pepper.



Mix chicken into rice, and simmer for an additional 10-20 minutes (until rice is fully cooked). Check frequently to make sure pot does not boil dry. (Add additional chicken broth if needed.)


 Add salt to taste, and serve plain or with tortillas.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

East Coast Wedding Pictures 2

On Sunday, I posted photos from my brother-in-law's rehearsal dinner and wedding ceremony. You asked for more snapshots, so here are some from the reception immediately following the ceremony.

The cake was made by Mr. Handsome's cousin. She is in her early 20s and is a professional baker. Her cake is out of this world. I asked if she wanted to share the recipe, but she said she wants to keep it a secret. Boy would it be wonderful to have though! (The cupcakes I posted to my Facebook page were also made by her.)



I took these pictures before guests arrived because I knew you all would want to see photos of the tables. My sister-in-law did a wonderful job.




Just under 200 guests attended the wedding.


Mr. Handsome is the oldest in a family of seven kids, and he was the best man. His speech was top notch. The perfect balance between funny and sentimental.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Car Seat Ponchos


Over the holidays, we visited with lots of friends and family we hadn't seen in a while. It was wonderful. On New Year's Day, we had breakfast with a young mom who has two little girls and one on the way. She is a full-time mommy who also teaches music lessons.

As she was bundling her kids up to go home, she showed me the matching car seat ponchos she had sewn for them. I was intrigued, so she explained how they work. Hers are made of two layers of fleece, and she puts them on her children when they load up into a cold car. The ponchos fit nicely over car seats, and kids can easily remove them if they get too warm.

Pretty genius idea, isn't it? This post isn't an advertisement, but if you're as intrigued as I was and would like one or more car seat ponchos (either for your own kiddos or for a gift) my friend would be more than willing to make them for you. She can make them with one or more layers, depending on the climate.