Sunday, December 20, 2015

Simpsons Family Holiday Party Recap

We had such a great time at our Pop Up Pop Art holiday party last year that we almost didn't even try for a repeat. But we did, and I'm glad we did.

Enjoying the company of our friends and neighbors.

Our parties have almost always had a signature cocktail, ever since we found this recipe for Alberto No. 1 while reading the New York Times on a visit to Manhattan in 2000. In recent years, we've added a theme.

Last year's Pop Art Pop Up Party theme fell into our laps when I was able to borrow about 20 pop art paintings from one of my favorite artists.

This year's Simpsons Family Christmas theme was supposed to be subtle, yet ended up being anything but. We had Simpsons decorations (though oddly none on the tree), a Simpsons family photo shoot with wigs and face masks (pix shared via Shutterfly), and food from various Simpsons episodes.

There were several non-Simpsons elements, including the signature cocktails, a rosemary infused holiday cocktail from the Flair Exchange and a white Christmas sangria from Cooking Stoned. I also attempted a non-alcohol version for my prego and non-drinking friends. But I think that ended up a bit too sweet. I'll need to do more testing next time around.

Here's what we did:

Simpsons Family Photo Shoot: My Future Farmgirl and her dad painted the iconic Simpsons painting seen in 25+ years of Simpsons episodes. We added a camera set on a timer, tripod and wigs and masks we happened to have. The shoot was self service and I was thrilled by how many guests had fun with this.

Krusty Burgers also known as Steamed Hams

'Eat My Shorts' Ham Salad Sandwiches

Tower of MMMM Donuts

Nachos Flanders Style: This is a newfound favorite recipe from Mountain Mama Cooks for a simple, healthy cottage cheese dip. Just cottage cheese, prepared horseradish, lemon zest and dill. Served here plain-Jane Flanders style on cucumbers.

Food Labels: I'm definitely using this easy, attractive approach to labeling the finger food feast. It's super simple to cut corks and slide in labels however fancy you choose to make them. Thanks to PopSugar for the idea.

Flaming Moes: This one I'm not too sad just didn't work out. The iFarmer really wanted to offer Flaming Moes from the bar. But no dice. Also, even if the flame did more than flash, the drink is just gross. Seriously. Gross.

On the Way Out: For a party favor, I wanted to share the aromas of the season. So guests were given a mulling spice bag and a mini cookie cutter. I love mulling spices in water simmering on the stove or better yet in a batch of hot cider or mulled wine.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Seed to Jack-O-Lantern to Pie

Despite the name of this blog and my interest in farming, I'm not much of a gardener. I've had some success, mostly with hearty herbs. But this summer, I finally hit some gardening gold. I had luck with Swiss chard, sunflowers (until the squirrels got them), a bumper crop of tomatoes and our crowning achievement, pumpkins.

The kids started them with seeds at the first Farmers' Market. They were at the market to help other kids plant, but came home with two biodegradable seed pots of their own.

From those, we watched the pumpkins sprout, then nearly take over our backyard. I had to keep training the vines away from the sidewalk. And man, those plants are have spikes that drew blood more than once when I dared weed without gloves.

Because I wasn't there when the seeds were planted, there was a time I doubted these guys were pumpkins. They looked more like striped melons. But sure enough, after following some advice to trim back the shoots, the pumpkins grew and turned to orange.

That's when the war with the squirrels began. I wanted to avoid poisons, so I scattered red chili powder on and around them. That seemed to keep the critters away, except for one whole one that got itself eaten while we were away for a long weekend.

When I felt I couldn't keep the backyard critters away any longer, I harvested the three surviving pumpkins and brought them inside for protection. There we enjoyed them as fall decorations, until we finally decided to carve two the night before Halloween.

After reading that if you roast your jack-o-lantern within 24 hours of carving it, we decided to give that a try in the VFG test kitchen. Between the carved pumpkin and the other uncarved one, we ended up with more than 6 cups of fresh roasted pumpkin puree.

The puree fed us a deep dish pumpkin pie (recipe ala Alton Brown) and some amazing pumpkin cookies (better second day) with caramel icing.

I was thinking of all this tonight when I pulled the last of the puree from the freezer tonight so we can make more pumpkin cookies this week.

I'm not sure I'll have luck the second time around, but we'll try pumpkins from seed again next year too.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Introducing Peacherryblue: Peach, Cherry & Blueberry Pies in Three Cake Layers

When I learned one of my Thanksgiving guests was going to attempt a turducken (a chicken in a duck in a turkey), naturally I thought I needed to have a complement on the dessert side.

Peachcherryblue a/k/a Triple Threat.

The problem: Cherpumple recipes (cherry, pumpkin, apple pie/layer cake) with fondant icing or buttercream frosting seemed absolutely gross to me. I just couldn't see investing the time and energy into a layer cake that I wouldn't eat.

So after several days thinking through which ingredients and cake pairings could work, I came up with what turned out to be a pretty fantastic fruity layer cake.

First layer was a little over full.

I love cherry and blueberry together. And I think peach and blueberry are a pretty tasty pairing. So picking the fruit was easy.

For the cakes, I went with complementary flavors: For cherry, I chose French vanilla; for blueberry, the choice (thanks to a co-worker) was lemon; and for peach, the inspired choice (and because Betty Crocker makes it available), was butter pecan.

Pretty messy without a springform pan.

The final piece of the pie was the frosting. I couldn't imagine a heavy, butter-based frosting. But I understand why people choose thick, dense frosting... because you need something to cover up flubs or bind the layers together.

Around midnight, before I had to be up to prep for the big meal, I found this sour cream topping, a fluffy frosting that did a fairly decent job covering mistakes, but wasn't heavy tasting or too sweet.

Plastic wrap to bind it.

It's hard to explain, but the flavors just worked.

Even the doubters (me included) had to admit it was a tasty combination.

So next time you're looking for a challenging dessert to wow your guests, try what my father dubbed Peacherryblue. You won't be disappointed.

More than halfway through, the structure started to fail.

Then total collapse. Still delicious.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Baby Shower for the Books

My beautiful sister is pregnant with twins and I had the pleasure of being one of three co-hosts of her baby shower. I mostly did invites (thanks Tiny Prints!), plus a cute doodle on the onesie activity...

My first diaper cake to promo the diaper raffle...

And the party favor: a Caramel Apple in a Mason Jar Kit...

Inspired by this post from The Gunny Sack and this one from Event Trender,  for the kit I purchased 4 oz canning jars (wide mouthed and regular for variety); cookie pop sticks (the lollipop sticks were too flimsy for apples); Granny Smith apples; wrapped caramels; Heath Bar bits and mini M&Ms; clear plastic treat bags; green ribbon and raffia (I think jute, hemp or any natural ribbon would work).

I then wrote out the instructions and tied them to each gift bag. I was delighted to hear that one guest went straight home and made her caramel apple. She's 4. But still... success.

This is how they turned out, so pretty for a fall shower (or party). The flowers really made the table pop, such a beautiful arrangement from one of my sister's friends. He did the flowers and gorgeous decorations for the whole shower.

It was a wonderful shower and the diaper raffle was a huge hit.

Look how many she got!!

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