Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Favorite Beauty Tools

As a member of the BlogHer community, I was asked to write a post on my favorite beauty tools as park of their Life Well Lived - Looking Your Best feature. As a pregnant mom-to-be, I have worked harder on my skin prep work than on my makeup itself due to the natural changes with my body, and consider some of these items my best beauty "tools" to help me feel and look my best.

One of my favorite beauty tools is the Clarisonic Mia. My good friend turned me on to this after we both battled stages on adult acne in our mid-twenties. I use it daily with their Sensitive cleansing head and my Cetaphil Gentle Skin cleanser, and my skin has dramatically improved. It really helps take off makeup and get your skin clean. It is certainly one of the more expensive tools, but in the first month of using it, I found it to be worth every penny.
As any mother knows, the baby is constantly sucking the moisture out of your skin and body. A few times a week, I use this Laura Mercier Flawless Skin Face Polish on my face to remove any dry skin. It makes my face feel as smooth as a baby's bottom, and does not dry me out like many other scrubs.For extra exfoliation, I put it on my Clarisonic and scrub away!

Another "tool" I use daily is Kiehls Facial Fuel Eye De-Puffer. Since the age of 18, I have used eye cream to prevent wrinkles and keep my eyes looking fresh all day. While I try to use heavier stuff at before going to bed, I found I was in desperate need of something I could use before putting on my makeup that was light, but would get rid of the effects of a restless night's sleep. This Facial Fuel is light and easy to use, and does not clump up when I top it with some under eye concealer for those really rough mornings. It is so good that I have stocked up on this product so that I will not be without it when the baby comes!

As a pregnant momma-to-be, I have been using Palmer's Cocoa Butter Lotion to prevent stretch marks on my expanding belly. However, I have been a longtime fan of Bobbi Brown's beach line of products. Being a Florida girl born and raised, Bobbi nailed it on the scent of the beach... it smells like the sand, surf, and sunscreen in the best of ways. I use the Bobbi Brown beach spray for balmy summer date nights, but have lately been using the beach Body Oil to calm my dry skin after a shower. The beach is not just for the summer months anymore!

So those are my go-to beauty tools for keeping my skin fresh and hydrated. Check out other beauty tips at BlogHer and join me in their Life Well Lived series. And for a bonus, visit their Sweepstakes and enter your Life Well Lived Moment to win a Kindle Fire and $50 Amazon gift certificate! What are your favorite beauty go-to tools? Share with me in the comments below, I may just have to try them for myself!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fun For the Pregnant People

It is Friday, and I am a casual mess at work. Pregnancy is starting to set in for this normally fashion forward hostess. I am truly beginning to feel large - don't worry, there will be no preggo photos of me on this blog. No one needs to see my growing belly, no matter how cute I think I look that day!

I came across the funniest thing today and just had to share with my fellow pregnant people, or for those of you who have recently had children and can remember the days you wished your husband would say something nice when you felt yucky or out of whack. Here are 2 of the 26 men who have beautiful things to say about pregnancy:

If you are not laughing or in a better mood yet, you will be when you check out the rest here ! Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wild Rice Medley - Two Ways

We went to a party this past weekend, and I ended up hovering around the most amazing dish of wild rice and vegetables. I asked the chef how they made it, and it was so easy and so delicious that I knew I had to make a similar version for myself this week! There are actually two ways to make this dish, so I will show you the first way, and then tell you how they prepared it. The ingredients are the same, and both ways are equally delicious

Wild Rice (I used two 90 second Uncle Ben's packets)
Chicken breast, sliced
1 clove of minced garlic
White or Yellow Onion, chopped
White Button Mushrooms
Red Pepper, chopped
Newman's Own Oil & Vinegar Salad Dressing
Crumbled Fat Free Feta Cheese
Salt and Pepper

Recipe #1
Since my camera had a dead battery, it didn't occur to me until halfway through the cooking process to take photos with my iPad. Sorry for the graininess, but here's what you missed:

Cook the chicken slices in a skillet with a little garlic. While the chicken is cooking, chop the onion, pepper, broccoli, and mushrooms. Toss in the pan.

These are the two ingredients that truly make this dish.

Once you get the vegetables in with the chicken, add about 1/4 cup of the salad dressing to the pan, and cook over medium high heat. Be sure to toss them well so that they can soak up the flavors of the dressing.

Cook until the onions and broccoli are soft. Remove from heat, and while it is cooling down, cook your rice (90 seconds). If you don't use bagged rice, you may want to cook your rice before you cook the other ingredients and set aside.

Add the rice, and about 1/4 cup of the crumbled feta cheese, and lightly toss. I know it sounds like an odd ingredient, but as it melts into the rice, it makes the rice and dressing creamy. You also want to let the mixture sit for a few minutes before tossing again, as the rice needs to soak up the remaining dressing that has not cooked off.

After a few minutes, add a bit of salt and pepper, toss well, and serve warm.

Recipe #2

Use the same ingredients above. Cook the chicken with the mushrooms and onions only, and cook the rice ahead of time, and allow these to cool completely. Chop the broccoli and pepper and leave them raw. They will add some crunch to the mixture.

In a large bowl, toss the chicken, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, peppers, and rice, and add in the salt, pepper, dressing and feta cheese. Toss well.

Refrigerate for 1 hour or more so that the mixture is cold, and the rice and veggies have had a chance to soak up the dressing. The mixture should be almost creamy or sticky in texture, so if it is too dry, add a little more dressing as needed.

Serve this cold or at room temperature to guests. 

I actually ate the leftovers cold from the dinner above, and it tasted just the way their mix did at the party. However, I like some of the veggies a little crisp, so I think in the future, I would serve it cold with the raw veggies. Either way, it is so simple and delicious!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mini Lasagnas

As many of you may have seen on Pinterest, Mini Lasagnas are all the rage.  One day at the grocery store, I picked up ingredients to make my own version, and when a movie night with friends presented itself, I whipped up mini lasagnas for everyone.

1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground Italian sausage
Ricotta Cheese (I use fat free)
Shredded Italian blend cheese or mozzarella
1 Can Crushed tomatoes (to make sauce, or you can buy sauce- homemade is always better though)
Lemon Juice
Garlic salt
Wonton Wraps (to use in place of noodles)

I found the wonton wraps in the tofu section in with the fresh fruits and vegetables. Publix was out, so I went to Fresh Market instead. Many recipes online tell you to use broken lasagna ready-to-bake noodles, but I wanted to try the lighter, crispy wontons, and I was pleasantly surprised.

I also love to make my own spaghetti sauce. I buy the Tuttorosso crushed tomatoes from SweetBay grocery. They have basil already in them, and a really rustic Italian flavor. I simply pour in a bowl, add a splash of lemon juice, and add in some crushed oregano and more basil (crushed with my mortal and pestle to release the oils of the herbs). Voila! Homemade pasta sauce that is to die for!


To make the mini lasagnas, preheat your oven to 350 Degrees. In a skillet, brown your beef and Italian sausage.  I love the combination of both beef and sausage for a more rustic flavoring. You could easily substitute the beef and sausage for ground turkey, or something more decadent like veal or venison too.

While the meat is browning, spray a muffin tin with a non-stick cooking spray, and gently lay the wonton noodles in each cup.  I used 2-3 per cup, and I liked the edges to be overhanging a lot because they would get crispy at the end.

Next,  in a bowl, add a little oregano and garlic salt to the Ricotta cheese. This just peps up the flavor a bit.

 Add the ricotta cheese to the wonton cups. Be sure to not fill them over half way, as more ingredients need to be added. Press down the cheese, so that the wontons fill the entire bottom of the tin. 

Next add about a teaspoon of your sauce, and the browned meat on top. You could mix these together first if you'd like. I simply pressed the meat into the sauce once it was in the cup. 

Top with your shredded Italian cheese, being sure to cover most of the ingredients in each cup. This will keep the sauce and meat from bubbling out.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the top of the cheese is browned, and the wontons are crispy. To remove the mini lasagnas from the tin, simply lift out. If they happen to be a little stuck, you didn't use enough cooking spray, so scoop out with a spoon. Serve and enjoy!

I found these to be a perfect potion size for guests. Some people went back for a second, but most were pretty satisfied with just one. They also save great for leftovers the next day. I think it would be an easy recipe to whip up when just cooking for two, as long as you have the ingredients on hand. No need to make a whole muffin tin full, just make four or six, and unlike traditional lasagna,  you won't be stuck with an entire pan of lasagna that will take you a week to eat. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Every Day is Valentine's Day....

photo from Etsy
Happy Valentine's Day!

My love letter:

For me, Valentine's Day was always a Hallmark holiday that I dreaded, even when I was with someone. I never understood why people waited until this one day to tell someone that they love them, or to shower them with roses and cards and candy. Any other day of the year is just as perfect as this one to say what you think, and mean what you say to those you love.

This past year has been filled with lots of ups and downs for me, which consumes the time I am not blogging... new loves, friends lost, change in location, cancer, job opportunities, and a sea of new adventures. Every day that I wake up, I am thankful and grateful for the life God has given me, and the love he has allowed me to experience and appreciate. So much that EVERY DAY is as special and filled with love as today. 

I am very appreciative for all of you readers who continue to inspire me and keep up this little blog with my creative and culinary endeavors. It certainly is one of the little things I cherish and look forward to, no matter how crazy or busy life is.

My Valentine's wish for you is to celebrate those friends and family members you love EVERY DAY, not just today. Make every day Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 10, 2012

How To: Wally the Whale Cake

The invitations that Michelle, a co-host and sister- in-law, designed for the baby shower had a really cute whale on them. When discussing the theme one day, I suddenly got the idea for a 3-D whale cake, and how I thought I could execute it.
I searched online for what I had in mind, but alas, all the whale shaped cakes were 2 dimensional, as in a decorated sheet cake. Our mom to be deserved a delicious cake and one that was really cute too! So I took photos as I went along in the event that it turned out close to what I had envisioned, and I am happy to say, I now have a bit of a tutorial for you! Its a long one, so maybe just glance through it unless you are really determined to make it in the future! It takes a good amount of time and patience, but the end result is so worth it!

I first started with two boxes of Funfetti cake mix, vegetable oil, water, and eggs. Mix ingredients per the directions on the box. Confession: I actually bought 3 boxes in the event I screwed up the cake that took 2 boxes and needed to make simple cupcakes for the party!

Bake the cake to the instructions on the box. I actually cooked mine for the maximum time it stated, as I did not want the cakes too soft, since I would be stacking them. For this cake you will need one rectangular 9" x 13" pan (box #1) and two 9" round cake pans (box #2 divided evenly), and be sure that the pans are greased well, as it will help to get the cakes out later in one piece.

We will skip ahead, as you all should know how to mix cake batter! Here are the cakes when fully cooked:

Make sure the cakes are cooled completely. I actually stuck the pans in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes to cool them down faster.

Next, get a large sturdy platter out that you will serve the cake on. It is easiest to use this from the beginning, because once you start stacking the cakes, it will be nearly impossible to move otherwise.  Since I was a little unprepared for this, I ended up using a disposable foil pan that I couldn't really dress up in the end. I would recommend getting a clear or blue platter that will hold a 9"x13" cake without spilling over the edges.

Carefully cut around the edges of the 9"x13" cake, and invert the cake pan on top of platter. The cake should come out smoothly.

Next, I could have freehanded the fish shape cut, but I decided to be extra careful, since this was the base and foundation of the whole cake. I took a large piece of paper I had in my craft drawer, and cut a circle for the head and a tail. The circle size was actually traced from the bottom of one of the round cake pans, so that when you stack them, the cakes making up the head will all be about the same size.  I drew in the black lines on the photo where I would cut around the paper so you can envision it:

And here is after the cuts:

Be sure to try to keep the left over pieces whole, as we will be using some of these later. No eating cake bits until the end!!!

Here is how the base looks without the template.

Next, get out one can of frosting. I don't really care for icing unless it is Cream Cheese flavored. I bought 3 cans of the whipped cream cheese, as I knew I would be doing multiple layers of frosting and wanted things thin and creamy. You will need at least 3 cans. One is used to "glue" the cake pieces together, and two more for the decorative frosting once the cake is molded.

Using a flat spatula or knife, spread a thin layer of frosting on the "head" of the whale. Don't worry about it being perfect, as you won't see it later! It should look like this:

Next, take one of the round cake pans and cut around the edges before turning it upside down on top of the frosting.

Repeat the frosting again on this layer in order to prep for the third layer of the "head".

With your last round cake pan, cut the cake in half, and place one half on the front part of the "head" and frosting. I realize that this photo does not look like it is half of the pan because I took it at an angle, but trust me on this one! You will see below that it is half of layer #2.

With the remaining half, cut about 2/3 of it for the back part of the "head". The long sliver from the middle will be used for the tail later.

Add the smaller half circle to the back of the "head". I have also photoshopped a line where I trimmed off the back edge of layer #2 to stack to finish layer #3.

You will see below that the small edge has been "glued" to layer #3 with some more frosting. This is to help round out the shape of the head later.

I also cut a triangle from the back portion of the "tail" and inverted it onto the now straight-edge of layer #2, and "glued" with frosting.

Now, remember those leftover pieces we still have? We are going to use them to shape the tail. I have labeled them for your convenience.

And here is where they go on the back of the tail. Be sure to frost the bottom layer first, then place frosting between each piece as you "glue" them together.

Here is another view after I have fit them all together:

You have now finished the cake portion of the project! I popped him into the fridge to cool down, so that the pieces wouldn't slide around when they were frosted later. I would say a good hour is perfect.

Next, put the remaining frosting in a bowl, and using blue food coloring, add drops until you reach your desired color. I believe for both cans of frosting, I used about 30 drops for each.

Stir well to make sure there are no swirls!

Before you frost the cake, trim the layers vertically so that they are all even. These trimmings you can eat! You just want to shape the cake into a smooth shape.

Finally, using a smooth knife or spatula, spread a thin layer of frosting on the entire body. Don't worry if some cake pieces flake into the frosting, or you don't cover all the little spots. You will be using a thin layer of frosting 1-2 more times after the base coat.

Put the cake back into the fridge for about an hour so that the frosting can set. Repeat this step until you have a fairly smooth finish, and all spots are covered well. Remember to refrigerate in between layers. I actually left the initial frosting layer in overnight, and did the other two the next morning.

Then, I used black tubed icing to add some detail work. I added some lines to give the tail shape, and a smile to make him look cheery. The eyes are candied eyeballs that I used at Halloween here.

Lastly, add some blue twizzlers. I actually found these blue raspberry ones at Fresh Market. Just stick a few into the center of the head, and you now have yourself a whale! How cute is he?!

He also made a great centerpiece for our Under the Sea table. Good luck to anyone who tries to replicate this, and please let me know if you have any questions!!! You can e-mail me at foreverthehostess@gmail.com.

I hated to cut into him, but he was the most delicious Funfetti cake I have ever had! Remember, there are a few layers of frosting in between layers, so he was nice and moist, sweet and delicious!!! Thanks, Wally, for sprucing up our party!