Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year's Eve

As the last hours of 2010 wind down, I just wanted to thank all you blog readers for another amazing year! I wish you much health and happiness in 2011! I have a feeling it will be a good year... please check back soon for exciting new posts in January!

Happy New Year's Eve!

Thursday, December 30, 2010


My friend Nikki sent me a wonderful article today about the benefits of drinking Champagne, from Champagne is not only a health booster, but can help calm dry skin, and be a great slim cocktail alternative with only 78 calories per glass! The article also gives a great recipe for salad dressing using leftover champagne from New Years, and starting off 2011 with a healthy meal. And its last benefit: a Spirit Lifter... I think we all knew about that one. Check out the article here, and join me as I toast to 2011, and start drinking more champagne!


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cold Days, Warm Nights

Since we have been waking up to 30 degree temperatures here in Florida, I find myself gravitating to warm foods for every meal. Last week, while at dinner with my mother, the local restaurant chef sent out a small tasting of what was a tomato black bean soup. I thought about it all weekend, even with all the other delicious Christmas food we consumed. So this week, I just had to recreate it. Here's the recipe:

Tomato Black Bean Bisque
2 cans Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup
2 cans Black beans, drained
1 onion, chopped
3 Tbsp Garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp dried Oregano
2 Tbsp dried Cilantro
1 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Paprika
Lime Juice
Tabasco Sauce

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, chopped onion, oregano, cilantro, chili powder,  and paprika. Mix and cook until onions are translucent. In a food processor, add the black beans (make sure they are drained) and lightly shop/grind them until they are in coarse pieces, but not pureed. Once the onion mix is fully cooked, add the tomato soup (no need to add milk or water, just the contents of the can) and the processed black beans and stir. Let simmer over medium heat until boiling. I added about 2 Tbsp of Lime Juice and about 10 dashes of Tabasco sauce for a southwestern kick. I like mine a little spicy, but due to the mix of thick tomato soup and black beans, it takes a little more than usual to spice it up.

Added bonus: throw in some shredded chicken. I just grilled some chicken strips and placed on top, but it is better with the pieces mixed in. Top with chives and sour cream, and you have a perfect bisque for a cold night. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Since my Christmas cards are now in the mailboxes of most of our friends and family, I can show you what we ended up with for this year:

I was pressed for time to actually take a good picture of us, so I went through our belated Honeymoon photos in California from this summer, and found a decent enough picture of us on the rocks in Monterey/Carmel. The best part about this picture is that we actually set the camera on a rock and used the self timer, and it is certainly one of our favorites from the whole trip!
Merry Christmas To You and Yours!

Monday, December 20, 2010

DIY: Sequin Ball Earrings

A frequent visitor to the Martha Stewart site, I always look at her homemade gift ideas for the holidays. I always have a DIY party favor for guests at an annual dinner with some girl friends. I loved her Sequin Ball Earrings (at right), but after reading the directions, it seemed a bit difficult with the whole chain drop and making the sequin ball.

However, after perusing Pier 1 for another gift, I came across these Sequin Spheres for $5 a box! I loved that they came in three festive colors, and that there were 30 balls in the box, which could make 15 pairs of earrings.  This was one easy solution to the problems I had with Martha's how-to! So off to the craft store for the rest of the supplies needed to make the earrings.

I purchased gold plated hooks and gold head pins to feed through the balls and attach to the earring hooks. I also used jewelry pliers that I already owned to help bend the wires. I think the entire project cost me under $10. Here is the step by step how-to make the sequin ball earrings:

Step 1:
Set out your supplies by pair, so you make sure you have enough of each. You need two sequin balls, two hooks, and two head pins.
Step 2:
Feed one head pin through the sequin ball. The middle of the ball is styrofoam, so it it easy to press the pin through. Try not to force it, as the pin bends easily and you want to keep it as straight as possible before the next steps.

Step 3:
Push the head pin all the way through the ball until the head is flush with the bottom. Be sure not to push too hard that the head actually goes into the ball. You want it to remain outside of the sequins.

It should look like this when you have it through.
Step 4:
Feed the hook onto the head pin.
Step 5:
Clamp the hook and head pin with one set of pliers and hold in place while performing Step 6, below.

Step 6:
With a second set of pliers, grab the end of the head pin and bend it in half to form a loop. Obviously, I could not take a picture of the pliers bending the wire, as I needed both hands, so here is what it should look like after you bend it. 

Step 7:
Continue to use both sets of pliers to bend the pin around the stem of the loop to secure it in place, until the entire pin is curled around the loop.
Step 8:
Repeat all steps above for second earring. Voila! You have a pair!
I really love how they came out and in such festive colors. I wrapped them up in little boxes and randomly set them at each place setting. It was fun to see which guest got what color! And I kept a gold pair for myself that I will be wearing year round for that party perfect sparkle!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ribbon Place Cards

I have become a bit obsessed with vintage letterpress, and after scouring the internet for a set of block letters to use for stamping, came up with a cheap and fun idea for place cards.

I found an inexpensive rubber stamp kit at Michaels that I used a 50% off coupon during the black Friday sale for around $5. I also got a gold ink pad for about $4 and some white and gold ribbon for $0.50 a spool.

About half an hour before an annual Christmas dinner with some friends, I cut the ribbon into 12" pieces, and simply stamped their names onto one end, and tied them onto my vintage stemware. The stamp set I bought was the Typewriter font, and included both capitalized and lowercase letters. I chose to use the lowercase for my names since it looked a little more fun and festive. I love how they turned out, and the ribbon really dressed up the glasses too!

I also bought black ink that I can use on a darker color ribbon, like red for Valentine's Day, or a more elegant party or shower. Of course you could use the stamps on some colored paper for gift tags too.

I kept the dinner simple with red square paper plates from Target, and some bright green polka-dot napkins from the party store. Each guest got a brightly wrapped gift - check out the How-To tomorrow!

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Easy Christmas Decor

I needed something to add to our house this year that would just be a little more festive than lights. I came up with an easy and cheap idea that just looks like it was meant to be for my house!
 I went to Michaels and found 12" wreaths for $6 a piece on sale at 50% off! I also found the pre-made bows on sale at $1 each, and I bought a large spool of velvet ribbon for $1 too!

I cut a 4' piece of ribbon, and looped it around the wreath. Then I nailed the two ends of the ribbon into the top of the window frame. I used a little extra ribbon to tie a bow at the top to disguise the nail, and give it a little more pizazz. I then attached the pre-made bows to the wreaths.

Voila! It was that easy! The three wreaths cost me under $15 total, and only took about 20 minutes of my time. And the house looks so much more festive too!

(We do actually have white twinkle lights in the large front hedge and mini trees, as well as candle lights in the windows to make it look even more lively at night!)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Our Christmas Cards

A few weeks ago on Pepper Design Blog, I won the $50 gift certificate to Tiny Prints! Tiny Prints is one of my favorite online sites to order announcements, invitations, and Christmas cards. Here was ours from last year:

Since it was our first Christmas as a married couple, I decided to use one of our  favorite wedding photos. This year, I chose a photo from our summer trip to California. To all our close friends and family, you'll just have to check your mail next week to see ours for this year!

PS- Tiny Prints did not pay me for my review, I just love their site and products! Thanks again to Pepper Design Blog for the gift certificate to order my cards this year!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Giveaway From Blogher and Intel

Check out my Facebook page here for a great holiday giveaway from Blogher and Intel.

Friday, December 3, 2010

French Onion Soup Stuffed Mushrooms

I found this recipe on Pioneer Woman and just had to try it! French Onion Soup Stuffed Mushrooms - yummy! Go here for the full recipe.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Hostess is on Facebook

It is the inevitable. Everyone is on Facebook. My mother was on Facebook before me, if you can believe that. For many reasons, I will not have a personal page, but see the potential of having one to promote this blog and and to easily share the recipes and ideas that I post here. So please come by and check it out here, and be a FRIEND of the Hostess!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mini Southern Pecan Pies

Since everyone starts thinking "healthy" as you stuff your face with food during the holidays, I decided to make a twist on a classic family recipe this Thanksgiving. I took my grandmother's delicious Southern Pecan Pie, and made it into bite sized versions, so that no one would feel guilty about trying just one. 

I took a pre-made pie crust (2 actually) and cut small circles in it using my stainless steel 1/2 cup measuring cup. It was about 2.5" in diameter, so you could use a Tupperware lid too... whatever you have that is close to this size. I just cut them out with a knife, and then pressed the dough circles into my mini-muffin pan. Then I made the recipe below, and simply spooned the contents into each mini crust. I baked them for the same amount of time as a regular pie, and they turned out just perfect! Try them with your favorite pie filling for a small but savory dessert!

Southern Pecan Pie
1 cup Sugar
4 Eggs
1 1/4 cup Dark Corn Syrup
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 1/2 cup broken Pecan pieces (make them small for the mini pies)
1 9" pie crust (or 2- 9" pie crusts for minis)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, boil the sugar and corn syrup together for 2-3 minutes. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, and make sure you don't make them too stiff. Slowly pour the hot syrup into the eggs, stirring as you pour. Stir in the butter, vanilla, and pecans. Spoon into the pie crust(s) and bake for 45 minutes.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you and your families have a very 
Happy Thanksgiving

 Many THANKS to you who read this blog, too!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quick Quiche

We are doing a little something different for Thanksgiving tomorrow. We are celebrating with my husband's family by having a brunch! Since we all love breakfast foods, we thought that would be a good way to start the day before many of us have other places to visit, for turkey and stuffing. I am making my Quick Quiche by request.

This Quick Quiche recipe has been in our family for a few generations, and it is my go to entree for baby showers, wedding showers, brunch, and any event in between. It can be prepped the night before, and never disappoints with guests. It originated as a CRAB Quiche, but I substitute other ingredients, as you will see in the variations below.

1/2 cup Mayonnaise (I always use light)
2 eggs, whisked
2 Tbsp Flour
1/2 cup Milk (I use whatever is in the fridge, which is usually low fat or skim)
2 cups shredded Natural Swiss Cheese
1 can Fancy Lump Crab Meat, drained and flaked

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap a premade pie crusts, and place it in a pie plate. I like to add a First Slice bake in spatulas under the crust that make getting the first piece out so easy! Whisk the eggs in a small bow. Add the mayonnaise, milk, and flour. Stir in the cheese and crab meat until well blended. Pour into pie crust, cover crust edges with foil (so they won't burn), and bake for 40 minutes. After 40 minutes, remove the foil, and bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Variation #1: Bacon & Cheddar Cheese
Substitute one cup of Swiss Cheese for Shredded Sharp Cheddar cheese. I like to substitute the precooked microwaveable bacon for crab, and I use all 12 pieces, broken in small bites. Follow the rest of the original recipe.

Variation #2: Spinach & Feta Cheese
Substitute one cup of Swiss Cheese for reduced fat Feta cheese. I like to substitute a microwaveable package of frozen spinach for crab, and once you cook it, drain well and flake it with a fork before adding it to the mix. Follow the rest of the original recipe.

A special note: Swiss cheese and mayonnaise are the special ingredients here. They cannot be substituted, for they change the consistency and flavor of the dish. Low-fat shredded Swiss cheese, if you can find it, will also not melt, therefore you have to stick with the regular natural kind.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hostess Tips #1 and #2

I am going to begin a little recurring topic titled Hostess Tips. Now, I know that seems a little redundant because this entire blog is supposed to be tips and recipes, but the simple but important ones need to stand out. It is also a way to share some of my own experiences on what not to do. So here's to Hostess Tip #1

Wine = Black Shoes

It all came about in a simple conversation between friends. She passed me an incredible Pumpkin Martini recipe, since I love anything pumpkin flavored. I told her a story about how I made pumpkin martinis for a party once, with a not-so-positive end result. And the end of the story resulted in my Hostess Tip #1.

The thing is, when you are throwing a party, the easiest recipes are for cocktails. And how delicious if you could make a couple signature cocktails for your party, in cute glasses, with twisty straws or a festive garnish!! You immediately serve your guests your signature cocktail as they arrive, and soon thereafter, you serve the food you have slaved over that you hope they will also love. There is just one problem... pumpkin martinis don't go well with the Teriyaki chicken skewer appetizer, Paula Dean's potatoes, the Tuscan tossed salad, slow roasted beef tenderloin, nor the dessert of rich creme brulee. They will feel sick, maybe even before the salad. Trust me... I haven't had a pumpkin martini since.

Such a rich or strong cocktail may be delicious by itself, but when paired with a menu, you have to think about its elements. The heavy pie filling and cream and alcohol in the pumpkin martini should be served as dessert, and never before. Not only will you be on a sugar rush, but you will be full before the food ever arrives. And the lingering taste will ruin all the beautiful flavors of the meal to come. 

Enter WINE. Wine is like black shoes.... it goes with everything. If you are not sure what wine to buy, get several different bottles! Red and white! Smooth or dry! Chances are, one will be the perfect pairing for your food, and a few more may work nicely too. (Most people like wine, and if they don't, have beer and water in the fridge. Seriously, who doesn't like wine?). Wine doesn't ruin the flavor, or fill you up after one glass. It only enhances what you are eating. And then maybe you'll have room for the creme brulee.

However, if you are insistent on a signature cocktail, then skip to Hostess Tip #2:

Cocktails + Food = Love Match

You have to pair your cocktails with the food you are serving. Have to, for the sake of your guests. If you are clueless as to how to pair food and drinks, here are some great resources to help:

Food Pairing - a quick and easy reference guide online Guide: How to Pair Cocktails and Food - a great article that keeps it simple for all to understand with Fiona Beckett-if in doubt about what wines to pair with food

What to Drink With What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg- a great book, even as a hostess gift... maybe a hint to a hostess who needs to read this post!

So this holiday season, please use these tips for your party planning. And the last tip (a bonus!)- if in doubt about serving spirits before dinner, serve the signature cocktail as dessert. Surely, even if your guests are full, they will have room for just one sip. Cheers!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Give Thanks

I came up with a quick and easy centerpiece for fall and Thanksgiving, all for about $10.

 My local grocery store had bags of gourds and mini pumpkins on sale for $2 each, and I also picked up a bag of oranges for $3, and some whole cloves for $3. At home, I used the cloves to decorate the oranges - just stick them in! I decided to decorate a few oranges with dots and with stripes.

Half way through the oranges, I realized I could spell out words (and luckily had enough oranges left!), and so I came up with T-H-A-N-K-S. I pulled out my two large glass canisters and my antique Candlewick cake plate, and arranged  them in a trio on the table. Then I filled the canisters with mini pumpkins, gourds, and the plain oranges. I left a few of the beautiful orange and green gourds out to be placed with the alphabet oranges. What do you think?

I know that the oranges may not last until Thanksgiving, but it was so easy and quick to do that I can always whip up another batch before Thanksgiving.  Maybe even do multiple groups of different words, things to be thankful for.

This would also make a great place setting for your Holiday table. Just use the letter of the guest's first name spelled out in cloves, and place the orange on their plate. Guests will have something sweet and savory to take home with them. 

Since our dining room is in the middle of our house, I see this centerpiece a million times a day, and it constantly brings me warmth. The smell of the oranges and cloves has filled the house with their autumnal aroma, and the simple word of THANKS is a constant reminder of all we have to be thankful of this year.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

This morning, my friend Janet and I finally got around to carving our pumpkins. She did an awesome job for her first pumpkin carving (at left). Mine was a bit of a vampire this year, and I love they way he glows on our front porch!

Hope you all have a safe, fun, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Dining Decor

I am having some Ghouls over for dinner tonight, and decided to spruce up the house with some easy Halloween decor. Here is the dining room:
I used the same orange fabric from our Gator party, and added a cute cutout spider web runner from Pier 1. Here's a closer shot. 
The black wrought iron candlesticks were my grandmother's, and I have no idea how old they are. The blood taper candles are also from Pier 1. The spider is from the dollar store and I just suspended him from the chandelier.

In the background, you may see the mummy tray. I wanted to create one like Martha, and since we had a vintage glass head from a garage sale trip years ago, it was just too easy! I simplified Martha's recipe since I didn't want to deal with anything sticky. It came out just as I had hoped!

  • Start with the head. You can get a Styrofoam one or a glass one, and actually I have seen vintage reproductions of my glass head at Pier 1! 
  • Next, get two large rolls of gauze. The night before, heat up some hot water and either regular tea bags or instant coffee on the stove. 
  • Once it is hot and brown in color, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes, or until it is at a safe temperature to touch. 
  • Place each roll of gauze, unraveled, into the pot for about a minute.  
  • Remove, wring out in the sink (do not rinse), and place on a paper towel lined cookie sheet. You need to let the gauze dry out for about 12-18 hours.  
  • Once you have the gauze dry, simply wrap it around your head until it looks like a mummy! I used about 1 1/2 rolls around the head and then draped the rest along the tray. 
I used a large silver tray from Salvation Army ($2), and after cleaning it, covered it with napkins, since I will be putting food around the mummy.  A super easy project that I will definitely replicate next year!

More to come this weekend as Halloween comes. Check back soon for more fun and fast projects before Halloween night!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dazzling Mini Pumpkins

So I did not get to my pumpkin carving last night, but I did do a pumpkin project that is just as cute: Dazzling Mini Pumpkins!

This project can be super easy or super hard, depending on how intricate you want to get. It does take a little bit of time, but can be done by adults and kids of all ages. 

Start with mini pumpkins, or in this case, I used white marbled gourds sold in a pack of 3 for $2. I purchased self adhesive round rhinestones and elongated black beads at Joanns, as well as some superglue for this project. The round self adhesive rhinestones were easy to work with (no glue needed!), but I did find myself tired of peeling off the paper from such tiny things.  They easily made cute dots and letters. I made up the font of my letters, but yo could put in a little extra effort to find one you like online and try to replicate it.

The elongated black beads were much easier to work with to make the lined pumpkin, but needed to be glued on. I chose super glue so that they would stick and stay immediately. However, this is not recommended for children. My suggestion would be to use a craft glue and maybe bead the top half, wait for it to dry, and then flip it over and bead the bottom half.
You could certainly buy larger rhinestones and decorate a larger pumpkin too. I just love the little ones, and this great project is not only for Halloween, but can be left around the house through Fall!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Pumpkin + Chocolate = Heaven!
 A few weeks ago, I found a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies, and had to make them! I can't remember where they are from, but I managed to save the recipe on my computer so that I could make them before Halloween. These cookies are amazing! The consistency is more like a pumpkin bread, but so tasty nonetheless! Hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and prepare two greased baking sheets. Combine the pumpkin, sugar, oil and egg. I used my KitchenAid mixer, which just makes adding ingredients so much easier! In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Next, slowly add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mix. Then mix in the milk and the vanilla. Once the batter is done, use a spatula to hand mix in the chocolate chips. Spoon the mixture onto baking sheets 2" apart, and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on baking racks.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pumpkin Carving

Tonight I am carving my pumpkin. It is not as big, or will be as lavish, as some I have done in the past, but the pastime of pumpkin carving is one I have to do year after year.

If you have never carved a pumpkin, or need some tips, Martha Stewart has a great tutorial here. Or for an easier reference, you can go to my post last year on Last Minute Pumpkin Carving Tips.

Wish me luck that I make a good one this year (photos to come!). Good luck with your pumpkins!!!

How To Be Scary

My college roommate Jennifer Valdez is a meteorologist and special events reporter in Atlanta. This morning, she sent me a hilarious video with some good points on how to be scary this Halloween. Click the picture or link below to see the video!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Spirits

In honor of this weekend's festivities, we bring you a special post of wines with "spirit" to serve this Halloween. You won't find any whites here, only blood red varietals with bite!

Vampire Vineyards, 2007 Dracula Syrah
Paso Robles, California

Armida Winery, 2006 PoiZin (Zinfandel)
Dry Creek Valley, California

Orin Swift, 2007 The Prisioner
St. Helena, California

Vampire Vineyards, 2004 Vampire Merlot
Paso Robles, California

Spellbound Wines, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Napa Valley, California

R Wines, 2007 EVIL Cabernet Sauvignon
South Australia, Australia

Twisted Wines, 2007 Merlot

And if you want to make some scary mixed drinks, check out our Halloween Spirits post from last year here.