Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pesto

Every spring I plant basil in my herb garden, and every fall I use it to make enough homemade pesto to last us through the winter. Pesto is really easy to make, and over the years I've discovered a couple techniques for making a delicious green pesto that freezes beautifully.


The recipe I use is adapted from two recipes. I basically start by following this recipe from Martha Stewart, but then follow the directions for this one.


  • Ingredients:

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (or walnuts)
  • 6 cups packed fresh basil leaves (about 5 ounces by weight before washing)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

Directions

1. Spread nuts evenly on a baking sheet and toast in oven at 350° until golden and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool.


2. (This next step is what prevents the pesto from turning brown in the freezer. If you don't plan to freeze the pesto, or don't mind if it turns brown, feel free to skip this step.) Bring 4 cups salted water to a boil, add basil, and submerge with a spoon. Drain immediately. Rinse with cold water until cool, then drain in a salad spinner or pat with paper towels to to remove as much water as possible.

3. In a food processor, combine nuts, basil, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Process until nuts are finely chopped. With machine running, pour oil in a steady stream through the feed tube and process until smooth. Add parmesan and pulse to combine. 


4. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze. This recipe makes enough to fill two ice cube trays (roughly 2 1/2 cups total). Once frozen, the cubes can be stored in a Ziploc freezer bag.

5. Thaw 3-4 cubes (for every 2 adults) in a large bowl, and mix with warm pasta. Pesto also makes a great pizza sauce, sandwich spread, and seasoning for vegetables!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dachshund Pinata

So I didn't take the time to shoot photos for a pinata-dog-building tutorial, but in case anyone is wondering how I built the Hundley pinata for Abe's birthday party, here's basically what I did...


1. Gathered some materials that I thought would work for building a dachshund pinata: a long cardboard mailing tube, an empty ice cream pint, an empty wrapping paper roll, and a stack of tissue paper (in goldenrod).


2. I attached the ice cream pint head to the body with a short piece of wrapping paper roll, which I ran through a hole cut in both the head and the body to give it some stability. Then I used tape and glue to keep it in place. I didn't bother making holes for the legs, just attached those with tape and glue. 


3. For the fur, I followed this method to cut and apply tissue paper fringe. The eyes and tongue are made from colored duct tape, and his nose was a rubber ball that I wrapped with black tissue paper. His ears are just cut from tissue paper and attached with glue, and I attached a pipe cleaner tail to the cover for the back end.


4. Since we filled it with ice cream cups, I waited to seal him up until the last minute. I simply covered one of the mailing tube ends with tissue paper beforehand and popped it on after the treats were in. This guy didn't take nearly as long to complete as my last pinata, but he lasted long enough for all our guests to get a whack at it! 

After we were done, Abe's aunt put the pieces back together and left the pinata in our sunroom. When Abe found it the next morning, he squealed "Hundley!" and put it on the floor to climb on for a ride. The legs and head promptly popped off. Poor dog. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Marshmallow Monkey

After thinking of a ton of different cakes I could make for Abe's birthday party, I finally settled on doing a simple cake with just a couple decorations. I found a Curious George cake topper online, but if I ordered it online I knew it wouldn't be delivered in time (I sort of waited until the last mintue), and I couldn't find any Curious George party supplies at any of the stores by my house! I was left with only one option: make my own. 


After looking up some recipes for homemade fondant, I decided to go with this one...mainly because I had all the ingredients at home: marshmallows, powdered sugar, and food coloring.


I didn't want to experiment too much with food coloring trying to get the perfect brown, so I used a little cocoa powder to color the dark brown fondant for George's fur. It didn't take much. For the fleshy color, I used one drop of red, 2 drops of yellow, and a pinch of my chocolate fondant. I also needed some black for his eyes, so I took a small piece of chocolate fondant and mixed in a drop of blue food coloring. I made the turtle later that evening and didn't want to mix up a new batch of fondant, so I took some of the leftover flesh color and added a couple drops of green food coloring. I used the resulting olive green fondant for the turtle's head and limbs. For his shell, I just mixed a little chocolate fondant with the leftover olive green.


Abe woke up from his nap while I was making the fondant and pulled up a stool to "help" - meaning he dipped his finger in the powdered sugar on the cutting board, took a taste, and told me "mmm...it good!" He was very excited for birthday cake after that.


So to make George, I started by rolling a small ball of chocolate fondant for his head and a slightly larger one for his body. I rolled long pieces for his arms and legs, and attached them by just pressing them to his body. I flattened a piece of the flesh colored fondant and used a sharp knife to cut out the shape for his face. I also attached that by gently pressing it onto the head. I flattened two tiny balls of black fondant on his face for eyes, and used a toothpick to carve out his mouth and nose. The ears were just two small pieces of fondant I pressed in place. For the hands and feet, I rolled small balls of fondant, squished them a bit, then used a toothpick to add fingers and toes. 


He looked good immediately after I finished him, but as I mentioned before, I should have used marzipan. George's body started to slump over once I put the head on, so I added a toothpick backbone. Didn't help much. I put him in the fridge to firm up, but fondant "sweats" and looks shiny if it's been chilled. In the end, I coated him with powdered sugar and put him in the fridge overnight, loosely covered with a paper towel. Before the party, I just brushed off the powdered sugar and hoped for the best.


The night before the party, Abe mentioned he wanted a turtle on his birthday cake...or I thought that's what he was asking for because we had been talking about his cake. (Turned out he just wanted me to turn on his turtle nightlight.) But I liked the idea of a turtle because I'd been thinking George was going to look a bit lonely on that cake, so I quickly threw together his turtle buddy before I went to bed. For the turtle, I made four small olive green balls of fondant for the legs and elongated them just a bit. I rolled a larger ball for the head, and a long, thin tail. Then I rolled a bigger ball of the brown fondant for the shell and flattened it into a small circle. I just arranged the head and limbs on a plate and stuck the shell on top of them, then used a toothpick to carve some detail into the shell and poked 2 holes in the head for eyes. He was really cute.


I was inspired by this post to make a tiny party hat for George, using some scrap paper leftover from our kite invitations and a tiny, sparkly pom pom. 


I think my favorite thing about Abe's party is how he now walks around singing "happy birthday, how're you!" He also asks me for "George birsday cake" on a daily basis. If only I could figure out how to make George out of vegetables...

Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, George was delicious!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Abe's Curious Birthday Party

Last weekend we celebrated Abe's second birthday with a Curious George party. As I've mentioned before, Abe loves Curious George, so he was very excited about this party!


I drew from George's adventures in the books and cartoons for inspiration. Abe loves the story where George flies a kite, so for the invitation I made Curious George flying a kite. The minute Abe saw them he wanted to play with the kites! He ran around the house for a whole day with a tiny kite fluttering behind him, brought it to the park, and even asked for it when I put him to bed that night. The next morning I found the kite crumpled up under his covers.


To make the invitations, I found a Curious George coloring page online, added some color, and printed them on cardstock. Then I just cut around George (he was holding an umbrella in the original picture) and attached him to the kite string with a small piece of tape. I designed the kites using Photoshop and printed those on cardstock as well.


Since it was an afternoon party we just served cake and ice cream. We also put out some animal crackers, bananas, and blueberries, along with banana punch (banana juice + club soda) and Berry Blend V8 juice, which reminded me of an episode we saw of Curious George where George makes juice using a variety of fruits and vegetables. 


I made a simple chocolate cake with banana pudding filling, and frosted it with cream cheese frosting. I tend to frost chocolate cakes with white frosting and usually use at least 2 cans of frosting to cover a cake! The problem was I always used the frosting straight out of the can for the crumb coat. Now I know better! This time around I followed these tips from Prudent Baby, that suggested thinning the frosting with water for the crumb coat, and it worked like magic! No crumbs, no late-night trips to the grocery store to get more frosting, and I didn't even use a whole can! I made the monkey and turtle from marshmallow fondant, only to realize after I was done that I should have used marzipan. Oh well, live and learn. (I'll write a full post about my monkey making experience later.) 


The night before the party I stayed up late printing pictures for a photo timeline, and then hung them on our magnetic wall with simple magnets I made to show how many months old Abe was in each picture.


The magnets are just circles punched from decorative paper leftover from his first birthday party. I used a Sharpie to add the numbers, and then stuck them to circular magnets with double-sided tape. Abe loved seeing all the pictures and even asked to wear his wolf costume after seeing this shot from last Halloween. The pants still fit but I couldn't squeeze the top on over his head! 


Rain kept us inside, so the dining room ended up being the perfect spot for my photo timeline since that's where we set up the party food.


Of course we had to invite George and his friend with the yellow hat to the party!


Originally I intended to paint them on cardboard but I didn't have any pieces tall enough, so instead I used a couple thick pieces of Plexiglass that we had in the garage. I outlined enlarged coloring pages on the glass, and then added the color with acrylic paints on the backside.


The man in the yellow hat did double duty as a party game. I made a bunch of cardboard ties, and we played Pin the Tie on the Man with the Yellow Hat!


You can never have too many yellow ties...


The games were my favorite part! We also played Yellow Hat Ring Toss.


I found the yellow traffic cones earlier this summer in the dollar bin at Target, and added a band of black electrical tape to make them look like yellow hats. After searching everywhere for a cheap set of ring toss rings, I came across these diving rings with the pool toys at Target. They were the perfect size...and price!


Another idea taken right from the pages of Curious George was our paper boat race. I printed some free patterns from gift-wrapit.com and followed the instructions I found here to make a fleet of paper boats.


I tested a few different options before the party and Abe had a ton of fun sailing "pirate ships" in the bathroom sink. In the end I used half sheets of regular printer paper because it was the easiest to fold, but the ones printed on cardstock and even full sheets of printer paper folded in half lasted a bit longer.


The kids enjoyed it, even though the boats started sinking after just a couple minutes.


Our last game/activity was the pinata I made and filled with ice cream. It was too big to fit in my freezer so I waited to fill him until the last minute. Luckily the rain let up long enough for our boat races and the pinata. (Kids swinging sticks indoors didn't seem like a good idea.)


Apparently, I don't think ahead when it comes to building pinatas. It's hard to swing a stick at a face like that! (My brother said next year I'll have to make a #3 - I guess no one cares about numbers.) In my defense though, I got the idea for the dog pinata from a Mother's Day episode of Curious George. They wanted to make a pinata for a friend's mom but didn't have time to wait for a traditional pinata to dry. Instead they used empty raisin containers and other junk to build a pinata that looked like George's dachshund friend, Hundley.  


I used a cardboard mailing tube instead of raisin containers, so my dog pinata really put up a fight. In the end, I just had to pop open one end and dump out the little containers of ice cream before it all melted!


I found small cups of vanilla ice cream at Target and put together a tray of various toppings so the kids could mix up their own flavors.


After ice cream, we served the cake. My little monkey loved it!


Abe had a blast, so I'm glad we did another party, but maybe next year I'll just buy a bunch of balloons and call it a day.