Monday, July 30, 2012

Fun at the Fair

Summertime means a trip to the Orange County Fair (where my husband and I had our first date!).  In August of 2010, I themed my monthly dinner after this summertime activity with some Fun at the Fair!  This is an easy theme because there is so much yummy (and strange) food at the fair as well as lots of great activities, animals, exhibits, etc.

Invite:  Make your invitation a fair ticket with the details of your event. This is a very simple one using a Circus font.  Mail it.  Or if your guests are local, place a pail of popcorn ($1 at Target for the pail) on their front porch with this ticket attached.

To pull in the "exhibit" part of the fair, I asked each guest to email me a photo or two to be entered into a "Photography Exhibit".  I backed the photos in black cardstock and placed them on the walls as decor.  I made paper ribbons for the winners.  The ribbons were displayed next to the photos on the wall then awarded to the guests after dessert.

Decor:  Use bright colors.  I set the table with a royal blue tablecloth and used bright green and yellow napkins.  As a centerpiece, I made this super cute Ferris wheel.  It took me a LONG time to put together as was not as easy as the directions say, but it ended up being cute and a yummy treat for guests to nibble on at the party. I also added popcorn buckets filled with popcorn and red tickets to the table.  As a place card, I made mini cotton candy cones.  I used polka dot scrapbook paper to make the cone, cut out a white square in which the guest's name was typed to glue to the front. I placed real cotton candy inside.  However...if I were to do this again, I would use pink cotton balls.  The August heat melted the cotton candy rather quickly.

Menu: I wanted to serve fair food, but since some of my guests are somewhat picky eaters, I tried to stay with general rather than the completely fried/crazy foods.  Here is what I decided...

Giant Turkey Legs

9 giant turkey legs (one per person)
BBQ Sauce
In a large pot, place all turkey legs and cover with water.  Boil turkey legs until they are cooked and tender (approx. 45 minutes).  Remove legs from pot and place on the grill for approximately 10 minutes.  Baste with bbq sauce.

Corn on the Cob

Season corn with butter, salt, and pepper and wrap in tin foil.  Grill until done.

Crispy Seasoned French Fries

2½ pounds russet potatoes, peeled
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon onion salt
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
½ cup water, or as needed
1 cup vegetable oil for frying

Slice potatoes into French fries and place into cold water so they won’t brown while you prepare the oil. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  While the oil is heating, sift the flour, garlic salt, onion salt, (regular) salt, and paprika into a large bowl.  Gradually stir in enough water so that the mixture can be drizzled from a spoon.  Dip potato slices into the batter one at a time, and place in hot oil so they are not touching at first.  The fries must be placed into the skillet one at a time, or they will clump together.   Fry until golden brown and crispy.  Remove and drain on paper towels.

Funnel Cake

1 egg
2/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ¼ cup flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder

In a deep skillet, heat about 2 cups of oil over medium-high heat until hot.  Test the temperature by dropping a pinch of flour into the oil.  If it sizzles right away without smoking, it’s perfect.  Beat eggs and milk.  Mix all other ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add the egg mixture, beating until smooth.  Using a funnel, drop into hot oil working from center outwards in a web pattern. (You may use a gallon size freezer bag instead of a funnel.)  Cook for about 2-3 minutes, remove from oil when golden brown and crispy. Sprinkle with powdered sugar right away and serve.

I never miss funnel cake when I go to the fair, and these were very easy to make.  Of course, you could just have guests eat the Ferris wheel centerpiece as your dessert.  Either way, this is a simple party and was a lot of fun.  Add some fair games if you want as well!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Swim Teacher Thank You Gift

 Today was the last day of swim lessons for my two little ones.  I wanted to give a small thank you to their teachers, but I wanted to stay away from goldfish crackers or Swedish fish gummies.  This is what I came up with...

I crafted the card on Microsoft Word, and the saying was just something I came up with as I was toying with random swim-related terms. I oFISHally like it!

You only need a few supplies for this one:

1.  Candy melts (the more colors you incorporate the better,
but I didn't want to buy white and black just for eyeballs)
2. Wiltons Sea Animals candy mold - bought at Michaels for $1.99
3.  Lollipop Sticks
4.  Clear bags
5.  Ribbon
6. Tag

If your kids are taking swim lesson this year and you want to say thank's one idea!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Simple Anniversary Gift

I like to give my husband gifts that match the traditional or modern anniversary gift categories each year.  This year, we are celebrating our 5th anniversary and the traditional gift is wood.  I didn't have much time and didn't want to spend too much money, so this is what I came up with...

I "borrowed" this idea from a Pinterest photo I saw.  You can order it on Etsy, but I wanted to customize the colors to match our bedroom, spend less money, and get it quickly, so I decided to make it myself.  It's more special that way anyway, right?

I wanted similar fonts, so I browsed the internet to find a free font that I liked.  I used Serial Publication font.  This font does not include periods though, so I just found a different font I already had for the periods (Tempus Sans). The script font is also one I already had, Edwardian Script. I wish I was a stud at Photoshop, but I am not, so I settled with making it in Microsoft Word.  This design is so simple, it worked. I was putting the final print in an 8x10 frame, so I scaled the document it fit with that.  If you would like this template, comment below and I will email it to you to save you the time in creating it yourself!! All you would need to do is download Serial Publication (it's free) and edit the dates/events.

After presenting this to my husband in a wood frame to represent our 5th anniversary, I hung it on the wall of our bedroom and surrounded it with a framed photo from each of the 5 dates represented on the gift.  Wasn't planning to do this originally, but I really love reliving these moments each time I walk in our bedroom.

Happy Anniversary Honey!!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Taste of London

With the Olympic games taking place in London this year, I thought I would post a past party I did with a London theme (for other Olympic ideas see Going for the Gold post).  This monthly dinner fell on my friend's birthday, and she didn't want me to change the date, so I chose a theme that would match her. She studied abroad in London, visited again with her husband, and loves a local British restaurant, The Olde Ship in Fullerton.  Hence...A Taste of London dinner.

Invite:  I found an image on Google for a staycation party and recreated it for my invite. If your guests live close, place this by their front door attached to a British beer or cup of tea and crumpets for added fun!  If you are hosting an Olympic party this year, check out this invitation from The Party Hostess...

Decor:   I started with British flags outside my door along with a sign on my door that read "Casto Pub".  Inside I continued with the red, white, and navy decor.

I created a sign for my bathroom door that read "Loo".  We had a bit of fun with these signs after the party!

I set my table with a red tablecloth and a large (3x5 foot) British flag I purchased for $10 on Amazon. (I still have this if anyone needs it).  I borrowed Christmas china from England from a British family friend to use as my centerpiece.  I also purchased British beers and placed them at each place setting.

As a place card, I created standup cards of the Underground symbol used for the Tube in England.  Instead of the word "Underground" I had the guest's name.

Menu:  Of course, I wanted to serve British food, so I made a trip to a local store called The British Grocer.  They were super friendly, and helped me craft a menu and get the ingredients I needed.

Appetizer: Banger Rolls 

I bought these pre-made at the British Grocer, but there are recipes online as well.

Main Course:  Shepherds Pie
1 packet of Colman’s Shepherd’s Pie Recipe mix
1 pound lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced
6 ounces frozen peas (I left these out)
½ pint cold water
1½ pound cooked mashed potato

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Fry the ground beef and onion in a large pan until well browned.  Drain off excess fat.  Mix contents of packet with the water, stir into mince with sliced carrots and peas.  Bring to a boil, stirring, then transfer to an ovenproof dish. Spoon the mashed potato over the meat and bake in oven for 30 minutes or until potato turns golden brown.  Serves 4 according to packet.

Accompaniment:  Green Beans

Dessert: Mince Pie with Pudding
I bought individual mince pies from the British Grocer.  I heated these up and served them on a plate with vanilla pudding (or custard if you want) and whipped cream.

Favor: I created these silly bottle cap tags and affixed them to brown paper bags with red ribbon to hold the favor.  Each guest was given one of the British beers from my table setting to place in the bag to take home.

Even if you never throw a British-themed party, try out the Shepherd's Pie recipe.  It was delicious, and I have made it several times since for my family.  It is always a big hit.  Thanks for stopping by!!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Going for the Gold - Olympic Extravaganza

The Olympics are almost here, and I LOVE watching them! The summer Olympics of 2008 took place in Beijing, and this was the theme for my August monthly dinner that year.  There are so many more ideas I would incorporate now, but this is my simplified version in 2008.  Warning: This is way before my blogging days, so my photos are not very good and I didn't take photos of most of the decor.  Also...this year's Olympics are in London.  Check out my London Monthly Dinner post for menu/decor ideas.

Invitation:  I created this Olympic ticket to send to the girls for my monthly dinner.  I designed it in Microsoft Word.  If you are throwing an Olympic party and would like the file, just comment below with your email and I will send it.  It would be easy to swap out the Beijing and all the text. It is nothing fancy.  Another invite idea would be to create a torch using card stock with all party details on the back and the title on the front.

Attire:  I asked the girls to dress up as an Olympic/athlete just for fun. We had everything including a USA fan, tennis players, and even a fencer complete with tin foil sword and metal strainer for a face mask!!

Decor:  On my walkway, I set out various mini flags from around the world leading up to the door.  A sign on the door read "Olympic Village."  I set my table with a red tablecloth and yellow napkins to relate to the flag colors of China. Black chopsticks adorned the plates.  As a centerpiece, I crafted a giant martini glass into a torch using colored tissue paper. I also set out Chinese fans, fortune cookies, and I found the Kimono wine bottle cover at the Dollar Store!

As a place card for each guest, I had gold medal necklaces spread out on each plate.  I bought the medals at Party City.  They were the super cheap ones that come in a pack of 6. I covered the sticker in the middle with gold card stock and hand wrote the guest's name.

Menu:  Since the Olympics were taking place in Beijing, I served Chinese food.  I recommend all these recipes...

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

¾ lb. ground chicken
(I just cut 2 breasts into strips)
1 tablespoon minced gingerroot
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 head iceburg lettuce
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
2½ cups bean sprouts

In a skillet, stir-fry chicken, garlic and ginger in oil, breaking up with back of spoon until no longer pink.  Add carrot, celery, green onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil; cook for about 1 minute or until vegetables are tender.  Separate lettuce into 8 cup-shaped leaves.  For serving:  Spread about 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce on bottom of each lettuce leaf.  Spoon small amount of chicken filling.  Top with a few bean sprouts. Fold lightly and eat with hands.

Stir Fried Beef and Broccoli in Oyster Sauce

¾ lb. flank steak
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 each cloves of garlic, minced
6 each green onions, chopped
1 lb.  broccoli cut into florets
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon chopped ginger root
1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon corn starch

Cut meat across the grain into very thin slices.  Place in a bowl and combine with soy sauce, rice wine, water and cornstarch.  Allow to marinate for at least 10 minutes.  Meanwhile prepare remaining ingredients and stir together sauce mixture.  Heat oil in large wok or large skillet.  Add meat and cook, stirring constantly, until meat is about 75% cooked.  Remove and reserve.  Scrape out pan if necessary and return to heat.  Add garlic, ginger and green onions and cook 30-60 seconds until fragrant.  Stir in cut up broccoli and add water.  Cover and cook 3 minutes.  Re-add beef to pan and combine well.  Add sauce to mixture and bring to boil.  Cook until thickened and beef and broccoli are cooked through.  Serve with steamed rice.

Egg Fried Rice

3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
2 scallions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb. cooked rice
4 ounces green peas
(I added: 2 carrots, finely chopped)

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a pinch of the salt and a few pieces of scallion.  Heat oil in a preheated wok, and lightly scramble the eggs.  Add the rice and stir to make sure that each grain of rice is separated.  Add the remaining salt, scallions, and the peas (and carrots).  Blend well and serve.

Sweet and Sour Chicken Packets

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
½ cup sweet and sour sauce
1 can (8 ounces) pineapple chunks, drained
1 medium bell pepper, cut into strips
¼ small onion, cut into small wedges
½ cup chow mein noodles, if desired

Heat grill.  Cut four 18x12-inch pieces of heavy duty foil; spray with cooking spray.  On one side of each foil piece, place 1 chicken breast.  Top each with 1 tablespoon sweet and sour sauce and one fourth of the pineapple, bell pepper, and onion.  Top with remaining sauce.  Fold foil over chicken and vegetables so edges meet.  Seal edges, making tight ½-inch fold; fold again.  Allow space on sides for heat expansion.  When grill is heated, place packets on gas grill over medium heat. Cover grill and cook 15-20 minutes, rotating packets ½ turn every 10 minutes, until juice in chicken is clear.  Serve chicken topped with chow mein noodles.

Deep Fried Ice Cream

Cinnamon & Sugar
Deep Fried Ice Cream
(Although I found the recipe and was going to make the ice cream myself, I saw “deep fried ice cream” in the store already made, so …)

Heat oil to 365 degrees.  Cut tortillas to look like an hourglass and place one at a time in oil to cook.  Then remove and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Shape the ice cream into balls and refreeze.  When ready to serve, place ball of ice cream on top of cup-shaped tortilla with the fan part of the tortilla parallel to the ice cream.

Favor:  As a favor, I made sugar cookie gold medals that I attached to ribbon necklaces.  I piped on the Olympic rings and the year. I packaged these in zip-lock sandwich bags so guests could easily transport them.  If you are making these for your party, just make sure you make the holes large enough.  When the cookies bake the holes get smaller, so they have to start fairly large.

This dinner was a lot of fun.  We were suppose to play Wii Olympics as well, but we had technical difficulties.  Maybe next time!!  Hope you enjoy the Olympics this year...GO USA!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Craft Party

With the new obsession with Pinterest and other craft sites, I decided to theme our July monthly dinner around crafts.  At our June dinner, we all drew a name, and everyone's "assignment" was to make a craft for that person and bring it to our July dinner.  I wasn't sure how it would really turn out, but it was AMAZING!!  We had a great time unwrapping our gifts and I am definitely going to recreate some of the great crafts the girls made!

Decor:  At the front door, I set out my sewing machine with a random scrap of fabric and a quick "Sew Glad You're Here" sign.  I used sewing pins to attach the sign.  My original plan was to sew letters onto the green fabric to say "Welcome", but I ran out of time.

I set my table with a white tablecloth and a large brown paper runner made with craft paper.  I bought the paper at Joanns for $2.99.  I put various craft supplies I already owned along the runner to add to the theme - yarn, crochet needles, stamps, punches, markers, etc.  At a kids party, the guests could decorate the table with stamps or write messages with the markers if they wanted. In the very center of the table, I used a wooden cross stitch frame with cross stitch fabric. I printed out the Craft Party title on my computer and attached it to the frame with a sewing needle. To add a craft to the plates (and to save me time on doing dishes after the party!), I used paper plates and punched 13 holes around the edges.  I just wove ribbon through and tied a bow at the bottom.  Easy and super cute.  This is a great idea if you are bringing a dish to a party and don't want to worry about bringing the plate home, but want it to be festive.

As a name card, I cross stitched each guest's initial and backed it in scrapbook paper.  I cut a skewer to use in between the two pieces of card stock and dropped it into a spool of thread.

As a second name card (since I had a few guests with the same initial), I also added a photo of each guest on the place mat.  I took a piece of construction paper and used a craft punch to make the edges look cute.  Then just printed a photo of the guest and attached it using photo corners.  I used this same craft punch with scrapbook paper to create the napkin rings.

Menu:  Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of the food, but the menu was simple and tasty.

Oh "Sew" Good Chicken
Kraft Macaroni and Cheese
"Collage" of Vegetables
for dessert
"Tarts" and Crafts
(individual pie shells filled with pudding and topped with whipped cream and strawberries)

The chicken was a recipe found on The Enchanted Cook for Parmesan Crusted Chicken. It is super easy with only 4 ingredients!!
1/2 cup Hellmann's or Best Food's Real Mayonnaise
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, about 1 1/4 lbs. total weight or about 5 ounces per breast
4 teaspoons Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs

Place mayo and cheese in a small bowl and mix. Then lay chicken breasts on baking sheet and spread mayo mixture evenly atop each. Sprinkle bread crumbs atop each.  Place in a 425 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes or until chicken is cooked thoroughly and juices run clear.  Season with a dash of pepper and sea salt, if desired.

Favor:  My orginal plan for a favor was to give a friendship bracelet or a DYI friendship bracelet kit with a tag that read "Thanks for crafting such great friendships over the years!" or something like that. Unfortunately, I ran out of time for this.  Plus, I decided we were all getting a handmade craft anyway, so we didn't need it.

I did want to share with you the great items that the girls made as their crafts.  I tried to include links or craft information when I could.  If you have specific questions, comment below and I will ask the maker and get back to you with the answer.

For my craft, I made a cute purse.  I do not sew, so this was an adventure for me, but it only took me one day and was not too hard.  The entire purse cost me $12 to make.  I found the instructions and pattern (free) on Made by RAE.  The only change I made to the directions were that I lined the entire purse with interfacing to give it more stability/stiffness.  My mom is amazing at sewing, and this was her suggestion. I am planning to make one of these for myself, and will definitely do this again.  I didn't buy fusible interfacing for this bag, and I will for future bags (saves a bunch of time).

The gift I received was an herb garden.  The jars are filled with soil as well as small rocks.  The rocks are suppose to help if you accidentally over water (which I tend to do often).  The chalkboard paint will be great if I change herbs at a later date! The directions for this craft was found on Camille Styles.  I can't wait to hang this!

Another friend is a wine-lover, so the craft she received was these super cute wine charms!  The blog with directions, My Chic Life,  makes them with letters, but since you never know who is going to come over, my friend decided to use jewels instead.  I love them!  I also love how she styled them around the wine bottle instead of just tossing them in a box.  Adding this to my "to make" list.

A collection of scrapbooked cards was another great gift.  There were 12 handmade cards with everything from birthday to just generic. It is always nice to have cards on hand to avoid last minute trips to the store, so this was a great gift.

Another friend made this wall art with canvas, wooden letters/words, and spray paint.  I think this would make a great wedding gift or you could spell out a baby's first, middle, and last name for a cute baby shower gift.  My friend found the directions for this project on Inspiration for Moms.  She made three of them with the words: Live, Dream, and Believe, and added ribbon to the top for hanging.

Check out these fun tile coasters made for our friend who is an English teacher and avid reader.  Some of the titles were books she teaches as well as books she's talked about at our dinners in the past.  These are easy to make.  My friend's YouTube video will show you exactly how to make them with photos, but book covers (or music album covers if you have a friend really into music) are made the same way.  

This silly photo was the gift for our friend who loves the Los Angeles King's hockey team. The maker used Photoshop to put the recipient's favorite hockey player, Mike, into the photo!  We got quite a laugh out of this craft!

This quote is perfect for our friend and her household.  The maker designed the layout/font that she wanted and printed it on photo paper.  She then used Mod Podge to adhere it to a piece of 8 1/2" by 11" piece of wood.  She added another layer of Mod Podge as a gloss on the front. I am going to try something like this for my house.

These fun canvas prints were made by our photographer friend.  She took recent photos she had taken of the gift recipient's daughters and crafted them onto canvas with a little Mod Podge.  The tutorial for this project was from My Sassy Pepper.  The photos are darling (her kiddos are super cute and photogenic), but the edge effect on the canvas makes it even better.  I think these would be great gifts for grandparents.  Adding this craft to my "to make" list too!

And lastly, this awesome wine cork board (with two scrapbooked tags).  Just make sure you have enough corks.  This one used 50!!  The metal scrapbook letters on the side are the initials of the recipient and her family.  I found the directions for a similar board on Simply Emily if you are interested in making one.

 This was another great party and theme with the girls. Hope you were inspired to make some of these crafts or throw a craft party yourself!!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Amazing Rainbow Cake

I promised you the "skinny" on how to make the amazing looking (and tasting) cake from my daughter's Art inspired 3rd birthday party.  I say skinny because I tried a new cake recipe which substitutes a can of Sprite for the eggs, oil, etc.  It cuts down on the fat/calories, but doesn't take away the flavor = HOORAY!!

There are only a few ingredients for the actual cake:
  • 2 boxes of white cake mix (any brand)
  • 24 oz. of clear diet soda (2 cans, I used Sprite, but you can use ginger ale as well)
  • Gel Food Coloring (Betty Crocker Classic - gel food colors)
Step 1:  Mix the cake mix and the soda according to the regular instructions on the box.  Don't worry if it is lumpy. That's fine.

Step 2:  Divide the cake mix into 6 separate bowls as evenly as possible. By estimate, approximately 1 cup and 2 tablespoons per bowl.

Step 3:  Stir color into each bowl with its own spoon.

Step 4: Measure out 2/3 to 3/4 of your first mix (about 1 cup) and pour it into the middle of the cake pan. Start with red, then orange, then yellow.  In your second pan, work backwards...start with purple, then blue, then green.  This is so the layers are even.  After you've done the first three colors in each pan, continue with the rest of the rainbow. Pan #1 - rainbow order, Pan #2 - reverse rainbow order.

Step 5:  Bake the cake according to the instructions on the box.  Note: you probably need extra time (5 or 10 minutes) because of the density of the soda.  The cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean!

Step 6:  After the cakes have cooled, place one upside down on top of the other and frost!  Then enjoy!

This is an easy cake for a rainbow themed birthday party of any fun affair. You could even make it with only red, white and blue for a 4th of July or Memorial Day party!  Or various shades of green for St. Patrick's Day! So fun!