Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Cider and Treats Gathering!

I hope you have had a Merry Christmas with your friends and family! I have had a wonderful time with my husband's family in Idaho and I'm off to spend a few more days with family in Dallas; it has been a nice break from real life!

Before we left all our friends for the holidays, we wanted to have a little gathering with friends to see each other off. We weren't up to a big party since everyone was busy preparing to leave and there are always lots of parties this time of year.

We simply invited everyone for some apple cider and some baked treats. It was very casual but was perfect for our friends and us!
 
You could have this party anytime in the winter or even fall, it doesn't have to be Christmas to have an apple cider party. It would also be a cute New Year's party idea!



 Mugs for Apple Cider
Caramel apple cider in the crock pot-loosely based on this recipe.

 These are dark chocolate peppermint wafer cookies from Whole Foods. Amazing. 
They were gone in minutes.
 Christmas isn't Christmas without Puppy Chow/ Muddy Buddies.
 Fresh apples and sparkling cider pound cake based on this recipe. It was good, but half of it was underbaked and wouldn't come out of the pan so I probably wouldn't make it again.
 Homemade madeleines. Recipe to come!
 Peanut butter pretzels from Costco.
Banana nut muffins. 

For the Caramel apple cider, combine apple juice, caramel from a jar (the kind used for sundaes), and 2 cinnamon sticks for 4  hours on low. Add some powdered cinnamon if greater spice flavor is desired. 

Enjoy! And Happy Holidays!






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Monday, December 17, 2012

Insta-Yum November

I know this is late but I still wanted to share all the delicious things I ate in November! Let me know if you have tried these places and liked them or not too!

 I was lucky enough to have a gift card to Z'Tejas on 6th Street where I got this grilled cheese and corn soup (both good but not great) but this queso below was delicious! And I had a fruity drink that I liked and my waiter was awesome. So I would definitely go back and order a more traditional entree.
 Queso and guacamole from Z'Tejas...what's not to like?

 A friend of mine gave us a Living Social deal to Poke-e-Jo's barbeque. It was our first time trying it and I liked it! Not as good as Rudy's barbeque but lots of good side options and a fun country ambiance. I'm a sucker for traditional chopped beef sandwiches and green bean casserole!
 Chino's Burrito is a new Chinese burrito place in Round Rock. "Tex Mex goodness and Asian cuisine all wrapped in a tortilla." Basically they have both Tex Mex and Asian foods and you can pick what you want in your tacos or burrito! Really good food and such a different idea! They have Korean style Bulgogi meat and teriyaki chicken-both of which make some yummy tacos!

 It may be wrong but this put a big smile on my face after a long week. It's hard to beat pizza, cinnamon sticks and cheese sticks from Pizza Hut. Plus it was only $9.99. Hard to beat!

 Red Velvet hot chocolate from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.
 Pulled pork sliders from Curly's Perfect Pig at the Round Rock food trucks. These were good sliders-all had different toppings but the hush puppies and okra weren't that great. 

 Ahi tuna salad from BJ's. I used to love BJ's restaurant but I am no longer on that bandwagon. This salad was okay and it wasn't cheap. Maybe one day I'll give it another go but for now I will only be getting giant cookies from BJ's.

 Bacon pesto chicken with cheese mashed potatoes and asparagus from Kerbey Lane in Austin.
 This was so good! I devoured it.
 The famous Kerbey Lane queso- guacamole covered in queso. This is the best queso I have ever had.
 If you come to Austin, you must try it!
 A plate with a taquito, enchilada and tamale from Taco Cabana
I can't remember the name of this platter but I liked it!
 Boudin sausage balls from a food truck at the North Austin Trailer Park
It was a Cajun one but I can't find the name! 
I didn't really like these Boudin balls (sausage and rice, fried) but I
 did have a good shrimp po boy from them!
 A molcajete, filled with steak, chicken, shrimp and cactus!  From Campo Azul in Round Rock. The waitress was super nice and the molcajete was good (the queso, not so much). 
The restaurant wasn't the nicest but I liked it overall. Not sure if I would go back or not!
 The Pumpkin Spice cupcakes from Hey Cupcake!, these are the best cupcake I have ever had from there. They are seasonal so try them while you can!
 For my big work event, I planned an event with a 4 course meal from the Four Seasons Austin. 
And of course, that required a tasting of all the options! It was so fun and everything was delicious!
This was a trio of salads each with different dressings...we chose this and it was fun having 3 options!
 Chicken piccata with orzo and broccolini...we chose this one. 
It was light but had great subtle flavors.
 All the options!
 All the entree options, each on it's own little plate.
 Dessert trio...again, so fun to get a little taste of 3 things: 
cheesecake, chocolate cake and creme brulee.
 The most decadent chocolate cake I have ever had. I could have eaten 4 of these! 
 
 My Thanksgiving plate: ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes.
Heaven.
 Hard Eight Barbeque in Roanake. A fun place with good sides and true barbeque.
My whole family loved this place. 

 Great Mexican food from Anamia's in Flower Mound. 
They also have amazing tableside guacamole, definitely get it if you go!
 The classic In N Out burger!

Any good recommendations for me? I honestly have been eating out so much I look forward to the New Year and getting back to cooking since work has calmed down!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Frosting

I'm so sorry for my long blogging absence! I am excited to be back and I have so many fun things I want to share with y'all! I hope you will start reading again!

These little beauties came from a day when I wanted to bake but was out of flour to make anything from scratch. Luckily I had a cake mix on hand and found this great recipe with cake mix and no flour.

My husband gobbled these up and I gave a bunch away to friends and he was very disappointed to see these go! They are a perfect for a fall or winter treat! Go make these as a little Christmas treat-you won't regret it!



Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Cream Cheese Frosting

recipe slightly adapted from Kraft.com

Makes between 16-20 whoopie pies depending on size

 Ingredients
1 pkg.  (2-layer size) yellow cake mix
1 pkg.  (3.4 oz.)  Vanilla Flavor Instant Pudding
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup  oil
1/3 cup  water
3 eggs
1 pkg.  (8 oz.) Cream Cheese, softened
1 jar  (7 oz.) Marshmallow Creme
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 tsp.  ground cinnamon
1 tub  (8 oz.) COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, thawed

 
Directions
Heat oven to 350ºF.

Beat first 7 ingredients with mixer until well blended. Scoop into small mounds (I used a medium sized cookie scoop of about 2 tablespoons batter), 3 inches apart, on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray or on a Silpat. 
 
Bake 12 to 14 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool on baking sheet 2 min. Remove to wire racks; cool completely. 
 
Beat cream cheese, marshmallow cream, ginger and cinnamon in large bowl with mixer until well blended. Whisk in Cool Whip. Spread 3 Tbsp. onto flat side of 1 cake; top with second cake, flat-side down. Roll edge in sprinkles, if desired. Repeat with remaining cakes. Keep refrigerated.

(The cakes can be made ahead of time. Bake and freeze up to 2 weeks. When freezing, place in single layer in pan to prevent them from sticking together. Thaw completely before using to assemble whoopie pies.)
 
Enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Secret Ingredient Chili

If you haven't figured out by now that I am from Texas, then you haven't been paying attention! There are a few stereotypical foods from Texas that also happen to be 100% accurate. Tex-Mex, barbeque and fried foods are just the tip of the iceberg. Chili, also happens to be something we take very seriously.

My father, in particular, takes chili very seriously. He asks the butcher to grind his own meat and he uses several varieties. He orders his spices in bulk and uses several different kinds of chili powder that most people probably never knew existed. I remember growing up and going to chili cook offs with him. Again, he took this very seriously. These days, he doesn't go to big competitions but he still competes in local competitions and although he tries to hide it, I know he is disappointed if he doesn't win. Like I said, the man takes his chili very seriously since he puts so much hard work and pride into every batch. And he has a right to, his chili is seriously good.


And he never ever ever puts beans in his chili. "Real chili doesn't have beans." That much I learned from my father.

But let me tell you what I learned from my mother. Beans are cheaper than meat and they make the chili go further when you are trying to feed a crowd. And Mom's chili uses more everyday ingredients (none of them having to be specially ordered) and also her chili isn't super hot like my father's. And whenever I make this chili, I get tons of compliments on it. My mom made a huge batch of this for a dozen of my college friends one time and they were in love. I think all the boys loved my mom even more after she made this chili for them. And last year, she won the church chili cook off! As you can tell, neither of my parents are too shabby.

I promise, one day, when I can master my father's recipe and do it justice, I will post it on this blog.

In the meantime, I am posting my mom's recipe (albeit slightly altered to be my own) with her secret ingredient. I have met only a few people who use this same ingredient and only a few people can recognize its taste when tasting this chili. It really melds the flavors together perfectly for a great chili. I hope you agree! (p.s. you can still omit the beans in this chili recipe if you want to be more like my father :)







Secret Ingredient Chili
The Apron Gal

Serves 6-8

Ingredients
2 pounds ground beef or turkey
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic or 4 teaspoons garlic
2 teaspoons garlic salt
2 tablespoons chile powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1-2 jalapenos, halved (depending on your spiciness preference)
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans kidney beans
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
1 Hershey's chocolate bar (aka the secret ingredient!)

Directions


Heat a skillet over medium high heat, add the ground meat, onions and garlic. Cook until meat is almost browned, then add seasonings, until mixed thoroughly.

Add browned meat to crock pot with diced tomatoes, kidney beans, tomato paste and halved jalapenos.


Cook on high heat for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours. (Honestly, it gets better with time and it's hard to ruin this chili. If it were to dry out at all, simply add some water and let it cook for a little while longer.)

Half way through cooking, or in the last hour, add the chocolate bar and stir, remove jalapeno chunks.

Top with cheese, onions and or crushed tortilla chips or Fritos.

Enjoy!!

Monday, November 12, 2012

80's Murder Mystery!

For my birthday party, I wanted to throw a murder mystery party!  This was my first time hosting one and I was very excited. We had a blast and I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

I chose an 80's themed High School Reunion and had lots of fun planning the food, decorations and of course, my costume!

Make sure to pick a theme that people can have fun with and that isn't too difficult. I wanted people to be able to come up with costumes from home or thrifting (the 80's) versus having to buy things (flapper outfits). I also like all the fun personalities in this murder mystery kit: cheerleaders, nerds, cool kids, movie stars etc. It made for a really fun and diverse group for the costumes and personalities. Make you do pick a theme your crowd will have fun with it!

For those of you who aren't familiar with hosting a murder mystery, it works like this:

Every person who attends is given a character with a name and told to dress and act their part. They are also given a basic background of the storyline for the evening and told how the murder mystery part of it works.

The host can choose to decide if they know who the murderer and victim are, in my case, I wanted to make sure the murderer and victim would be fine playing dead and I also wanted to make sure one couple didn't have both parts.

Typically, guests arrive and mingle with drinks and appetizers for anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour. They also receive their first envelope with objectives (like talking to certain people and getting them to answer questions).

Then, the murder occurs when the lights go out! The lights come on and everyone is shocked! The victim is then removed from the room and given a new character for the evening so they can still participate. 

Next, everyone is given a second envelope with more secrets and some people receive evidence to present to others. Dinner can be served from any point. I served after about 20-30 minutes of mingling during this portion.

I also let guests take a break from their characters while eating since although it is fun, it can be tiring to stay in character for 3 hours! Just feel how your group is doing, if they are loving it, continue the characters, I thought people just needed a little break :)

Then once people feel like they have heard enough evidence and talked to enough people, everyone casts their vote for who they believe the murderer to be, as well as best dressed and best actor.

Finally, after tallying the votes, you reveal the murderer and the winners of the parts. I also served dessert during this time.

The End!

Now for the pictures.....

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You can send electronic or physical invitations with all the information the attendees need:


 The information sheet
 The class reunion newsletter (provided in the packet)

 The description sheet with the background and what each person should wear.

 I wrapped them all up with some Pop Rocks and delivered them to my guests. 

I hunted all around town for cute 80's themed trinkets, prizes and decorations.
 I was pretty proud of what I came up with!

Caution tape and the flyer for the mystery on the door. 


 Favor bags
The prizes for best dressed and best actor along with those who guessed the murderer were all different kinds of fun neon candies: Mike and Ikes, gobstoppers, sour patch kids etc. 




 I tried to use neon colors wherever I could!

I found a bunch of bright knick knacks at a teacher's store and though these neon magnifying glasses were perfect for a murder mystery! 

 I had the food on neon platters and plates scattered amongst the pearls, neon toys and paper cutouts. 

 Back to the future, a classic 80's movie, was on in the background.

For the food: 

 Sausage and sweet potato bites. These were a hit! Gone in minutes. I liked that they were a little different than your typical appetizer.
 I also made my own little "Murder High" pennants.

 Texas caviar. My own recipe mixed with some others. Basically black eyed peas, celery, cucumber, bell pepper, cilantro, lime and red wine vinegar. Served with chips. 

 Grape, bleu cheese and walnut bites or "amuse-bouche" a rough translation meaning enjoyment for the mouth. These were different and I think most people liked them. 

Homemade Chex Mex in cute orange popcorn cartons

 Punch with balloons! 

---

Then for the main course I did a Macaroni and Cheese bar. Not only was this fun but it matched the theme if you think of it as a high school cafeteria food. I was worried about my macaroni and cheese recipe but it was people's favorite thing I made (so I was told). recipe to come!


 For the "bar" part I served bacon, ham, green onions, broccoli and crushed potato chips. 
Top guest picks: 1. bacon 2. potato chips 3. green onions

 I asked friend's to bring salads so people actually got some vegetables with their dinner!

 I made two of these pans for dinner for 16 people and nearly every bite got eaten. If you don't have a ton of appetizers, I would recommend a third one too!

For dessert, each person received a mini S'mores pie and of course, they were so good I didn't get a single picture and they were all eaten up!



 The evidence
 Awards

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I also made a homemade photo booth that provided lots of laughs!

 The hosts: "B.A. Barricade and Pamela Abdul"

 
My favorite ladies!

Our awesome guests!
The gang-being silly!

I hope everyone had as much fun as I did, because I had a blast!

Have you ever hosted a murder mystery? Any questions for me about the party?

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