Monday, January 30, 2012

"She's Beauty and She's Grace....."

So we have been in pageant mode this weekend! My sister competed in Miss Alabama USA and got 1st runner up!! (She should have won, but we will get to that!). My cousin Sara and I headed down to Montgomery to the Renaissance Hotel Friday afternoon to cheer on our girl. (I have to stop here and say that I prepared the night before by having sushi with Laura, Julie, and Kate, and watching Toddlers and Tiaras!!). That night, the preliminaries were held. Last year when she competed, we couldn't really tell much about the girls. I mean, you can tell who is pretty and who knew what they were doing, but it was hard for us to differentiate between the ones that were really doing the best. This year, we were armed with our pageant knowledge, and we could tell instantly that our girl was definitely one of the top girls in the Miss group! It was so much fun to scream and cheer and wave our signs for Mary Margaret!! We left the theater (the same theater where I was sworn into the Bar--how different can you get?) feeling like she had left it all out on the stage and that she had a great chance of winning!! I could hardly sleep that night, and when I did fall asleep, I kept dreaming about the pageant. The morning couldn't come soon enough!!

That is her behind the screen before swimsuit!

With Mom after prelims

Sara and I cheering on our girl!

The final pageant wasn't until late Saturday night so I made plans with my friend Sarah Bell Wills to meet for lunch. I haven't seen Sarah in a while since she lives in Montgomery, but she recently announced that she was expecting a baby girl so there was no way I was going to miss my chance to see her while I was in town!! She selected the Deli at Alley Station, which was right across the street from the hotel! It was wonderful to see her and I just can't believe that she is going to be a mommy in just a few short months! Congrats!!! I brought her a cute pink stuffed elephant (Sarah went to Auburn for college and Bama for law school--I thought the baby needed to understand the difference!) and some of those adorable socks that look like shoes! We had a fabulous time catching up and we liked the restaurant so much we ordered dinner to go as well!
Me and the mommy to be

Sara (McCord), Mom, and I spent the rest of the afternoon, napping and resting---we needed to be top drawer for the pageant! MMM wanted lots and lots of cheers! We did manage to make it to Mass before the pageant (I insisted that we walk, which might not have been the best idea, considering we were down town and it was dark, but we felt really safe--way to go Montgomery) and prayed for God to have his hand on MMM and that his will be done in the end. That is all you can ever really ask for, right???
That night, MMM's boyfriend Matt joined us along with Aunt Fran, Mimi, and 2 of MMM's sorority sisters, Allison and Margaret. We made a great cheering section! After opening number (Feathers, Fur, and Sequins themed), they announced the Top 15. They did the teens first and then the Miss, so we had to wait extra long and we were SO nervous!! We felt like she definitely should make it into top 15, and she did! That didn't reduce the decibel of our screams, though!!!
The top 15! She is to the right of the girl in the red dress. That is her opening number outfit!

The top 15 then got to compete in swimsuit--and if you have seen my sister in a swim suit, you know that this event is nothing to her---she looks completely amazing, so amazing that even I don't like walking down the beach with her!! I felt sure that the judges would not eliminate her based on her swimsuit performance and I was right--top 10!!!
Again, she is in the middle in the black swim suit. The winner is the 2nd girl on the left, also in black. See what I mean?? 

When they called the top 10, they would call 1 girl and then she would immediately compete in evening gown. MMM was the 2nd to be called, thank goodness! She looked fantastic in her custom made dress (actually made for Miss MS to wear in Miss USA next year, but she ended up not wearing it an offering it to Mary Margaret!). It was definitely worth all of the drives to Nashville!! After a LONG LONG wait, they finally called top 5. Our hearts were pounding...when they called her name the people in front of us jumped because our screams were so loud. So sorry about that, actually. We literally had no control!!!
The top 10 in their gowns
Top 5, sorry it is blurry!!

The top 5 got to do an on stage question and MMM selected the Judge that played football for UA! Go figure! His question was about his 13 yr old daughter wanting a smart phone and should he get it for her. She basically said that children probably need phones to call their parents but that it can be dangerous for them to have smart phones with all of the access they afford. That wasn't want she said but it is my paraphrasing of the best answer!! Seriously, people around us were telling us that she nailed it. After they called the teen winners, they began with the Miss runners up. I thought I would be sick because I knew she had done so well and could actually win!! When it got down to her and the other girl, seriously, people around us were already congratulating us, saying she was definitely the winner because she had the best answer. That made it a little hard to hear that she came in 1st runner up, but we were super proud of her!!
My beautiful sister!!

Last year she was 3rd runner up and she had worked so hard and been able to earn a higher place. Now, don't get me wrong--the winner was very beautiful and looked fab in her swimsuit and I don't begrudge her at all (and her name was Katherine--haha). I just thought based on her answer, MMM was the best!!! Otherwise, it is really hard to tell when it gets down to 5--they are all pretty and look good in a swim suit--how do you choose? She got lots of congratulations and well wishes and even was able to laugh about her being "the best loser" in the pageant. She had a ball and was definitely proud of herself!! We really appreciate all of the support she received from family, friends, and even strangers! After the pageant, she and her entourage came up to our room and we laughed and told stories and watched Toddlers and Tiaras pageant videos on YouTube til way after 1am. It was an exciting day with a great outcome and we were exhausted.
On Sunday, before we headed home, we stopped for lunch to celebrate Sara's 17th birthday!! I can't believe she is so grown up!!! I took a nap once I got home and when I woke up, it was back to life as usual!!
Are you worried about what Forrest did all by his lonesome??? Well, don't be, because he was a man about town the whole weekend! On Friday night he went to Nessa's in Collinsville with Justin, Farrah, Jonathan, Denise, Sarah Kathryn, and Mark. He said it was delicious so now I have to find a reason to go! Then on Saturday he did a 50 mile ride with the Etowah Roadies, and that evening went to a cookout at Jays. He ended the weekend on Sunday by watching a Cyclocross race in town. What a very busy guy!!
I hope you all have a fun week planned! We should be fairly low key this week, which is great! I hope the weather stays warm so we can actually take advantage of it!

Want to help my sister win a spread in B-Metro Magazine? Please go to the following facebook link.
http://www.facebook.com/Bmetromagazine
Then click "wall" and on the wall go to the link for the Birmingham Fashion Week Calendar Shoot. Then "like" her picture (she is Miss September, sitting on monkey bars holding balloons). Then "share" the link on your wall and ask your friends to vote for her! Let's help her win!!!

Her calendar pic! I snagged this off of B-Metro's site--I did NOT take the pic nor am I taking credit!!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dinner Party Recipes

Below are the recipes I used for my dinner party, along with my notes and pics. Hope you get to try some! If you do, leave me a comment! Sorry in advance for the messiness of the post!!

Appetizers:


Cucumber Cups Stuffed with Spicy Crab
3 long cucumbers
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup crab meat, excess water removed
1 tsp hot pepper sauce (Tabasco or tapito)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp brown mustard
1 tbs minced green onion
Remove the peel from the cucumbers using a vegetable peeler. Cut the cucumber into 2 inch slices. Using a small melon baller, scoop out most of the inside. You want to leave the walls and a thick portion of the bottom intact.
In a bowl, combine the sour cream and the cream cheese with a fork until well combined. add the remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Fill each of the cucumber cups with the crab dip. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve within 2 hours of making.
It was actually SUPER easy to make the little cucumber cups. I recommend getting skinny cucumbers that are fairly uniform in size. Some of the thicker pieces were difficult to eat. 

Goat Cheese and Pancetta Stuffed Mushrooms
I am SO sorry but I can't remember where I got this recipe from! Just know I did NOT make it up!
1 carton stuffing mushrooms (I doubled the recipe)-washed and stems removed (although save 1/3 of the stems, dice them, and use for stuffing)
4 oz goat cheese (I used 1 plain and one garlic and herb goat cheese)
2 oz cream cheese
2 oz pancetta (or bacon bits)
3 cloves garlic, minced
bread crumbs
Saute the garlic and diced stems in olive oil until cooked. Put in a separate bowl and when cool, add the pancetta (cook it if need be). Then mix in the goat cheese. If you use all plain goat cheese, you may want to season with salt and pepper. Stuff mushrooms and then sprinkle bread crumbs on each. Drizzle with a little olive oil and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. They are delicious!!!

Pre-cooking

I might suggest cooking these on a tray that is both a serving tray AND a cooking tray (like Wilton Armetale). I did mine on a baking sheet and some spilled a bit. Plus, it was hard to scoop them from one tray to the next! Just save yourself a step!!
Salad: Dole Cherry Almond Spinach Salad (I was actually less than impressed-the dressing was totally blah--I should have made my own.
Bread: Pepperidge Farm 5 cheese bread
Veggies
This was VERY easy and made for a great presentation on the plate. I loved having the red next to all of the other colors! 
I sort of modified her recipe, so below is what I did.
Ingredients:
3 cartons of grape tomatoes
Olive Oil
Garlic Powder
Salt
Pepper
Pour tomatoes onto a roasting pan with high sides. Then add olive oil table spoon by tablespoon until you get them coated (you don't want them swimming, just oily enough so the seasoning will stick). Then sprinkle on salt, pepper, and garlic powder and stir with a spatula to cover in oil and seasonings! 
Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes! Serve warm or cool, however you like best. 

Pioneers Woman Twice Baked Potatoes
The Cast of Characters: Potatoes, Butter, Sour Cream, Cheddar/Jack Cheese, Bacon Bits, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, Black Pepper, milk (if necessary) and Green Onion (optional).
FIRST THINGS FIRST: Wash, then place eight baking potatoes on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, making sure they’re sufficiently cooked through.
Now begin slicing two sticks of butter into pats until they are all sliced, and put into a bowl. Then add one cup of bacon bits and 1 cup sour cream. 
Now, the potatoes are all done. The reason you bake them "naked" is so the skin will be nice and firm—and strong enough to hold the filling later. Within a few minutes after you remove the baked potatoes from the oven, you need to begin scraping them out.
Then use a sharp serrated knife to cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the middle, leaving a thin layer of potato on the sides and bottom. Put the potato in the bowl with the other ingredients and smash them together with a potato masher. Then add one cup of the cheddar cheese and mix in with the rest of the potato mixture. At this time, you can add the sliced green onion, however much you want. Also add salt and pepper to taste. 
Put the filling in the potato shells and place on a baking sheet. Top with more cheese and cook for 15-20 min on 350 until warm throughout.
I thought these were delicious, although in no way healthy for you. BUT, if you are going to eat twice baked potatoes, you aren't going for healthy, are you? I did the potatoes on Thursday night and just heated them up on Saturday before dinner. EASY!!!

Meat: Allen Brothers Tenderloin (OMG delicious)
I modified this a little too, but it was very easy!
Ingredients:
4 oz gorgonzola cheese
3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
4 cups heavy cream
salt and pepper
parsley
Bring the heavy cream to a boil and let boil for 45-50 minutes. Then melt the cheeses into it and add the seasoning and parsley. Serve warm. 
Dessert:
I chose this cake basically because it looked amazing. I was terrified of making a cheese cake for some reason, but it actually was really easy. You are going to want to make sure you have flat space in your freezer because this recipe requires freezing of the layers. 
Red Velvet Cheesecake


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yield: 11-13 pieces

Crust Ingredients:
32 chocolate sandwich cookies, finely processed into crumbs
5 1/3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Small pinch of salt

Ganache Ingredients:
3/4 cups heavy cream
10 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used half semisweet and half bittersweet)

Cake Ingredients:
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 egg
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon white vinegar
1 ounce red food coloring

Filling Ingredients:
3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs

Decorative Toppings (optional):
2 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
white chocolate for drizzling
strawberries

Directions:
Note on cheesecake making: Cheesecakes are simple and super customizable. New to cheesecake making? Watch my 6 minute Cheesecake Video Tutorial for visual assistance!

Note on scheduling: This cake is easily separated into two days of preparation, and can be prepared ahead of time. On day one, prepare the red velvet cake, cool it, and freeze it. On day two, prepare the cheesecake. You can then assemble and decorate right away, or leave this for day three.
The Oreo crust was very easy to make! I used double stuffed cookies. Make sure to coat the bottom of the pan very well, as my crust got stuck. Also, you want to make sure the crust is even up the sides of the pan (unlike mine) so it looks better!
She's right! I made the red velvet cake and cheese cake on Thursday and just assembled it all on Saturday. It made everything so much quicker!

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and the sides of an 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides to make it easier to lift the cake out of the pan when it’s done. Cream shortening, sugar, and eggs. Make a paste of the cocoa and coloring and add to the shortening mixture. Add salt and vanilla. Add buttermilk alternately with the flour, beginning and ending with flour. Mix vinegar and soda right before using and add to mixture by folding in. Pour batter into the cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely, cover in wax paper, and freeze for 30 minutes or until firm. 


Make the cheesecake: To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet. Combine the chocolate cookie crumbs, melted butter and salt in a small bowl. Toss with a fork to moisten all of the crumbs. Press into a thin layer covering the bottom and sides of the springform pan (at least 3 inches up the sides). 

Bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Once the cream reaches a simmer, pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand 1-2 minutes. Whisk in small circles until a smooth ganache has formed. Pour 1 – 1.5 cups of the ganache over the bottom of the crust. Freeze until the ganache layer is firm, about 30 minutes. Reserve the remaining ganache; cover and let stand at room temperature for later decorating. 

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium-high speed until well blended. Beat in the flour. Add in the vanilla and beat until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between each addition.

Pour the filling over the cold ganache in the crust. Place the springform pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the top is lightly browned, puffed and cracked at the edges, and the center moves only very slightly when the pan is lightly shaken, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire cooling rack. Cool at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Transfer to the refrigerator and let cool at least 3 hours, until completely chilled and set.

Assemble topping: Whip room temperature ganache to create a fluffy texture perfect for piping. In a separate bowl, mix together cream cheese, butter, and confectioners’ sugar to make a small amount of cream cheese frosting for decorating. 
I ended up frosting the entire red velvet cake, top and bottom, with the cream cheese frosting and then adding the chocolate ganache on top. I think this was yummy because it gave another creamy layer to the cake!

Assemble the cheesecake: Wrap a warm towel around the outside of the springform pan to help loosen the crust from the sides. Carefully remove the springform. Transfer the cake to a serving platter. Here, you can schmear some ganache on the cheesecake to help the red velvet cake adhere. I didn’t, but it’s a good idea. Then place your red velvet cake layer on top of cheesecake (right side up). Decorate top of cake with drizzled white chocolate, piped cream cheese frosting, whipped ganache, and strawberries.
After frosting the red velvet layer

The cheese cake right out of the oven. Don't worry if it doesn't look perfect-you are covering it up!

Forrest actually did the ganache layer. I was too afraid!

A slice! doesn't that look amazing?? It is!

Going and Doing

My mom told me the other day that Forrest and I "just go and do all the time". I think that is a good thing! This weekend, we definitely were "going and doing" the whole weekend. On Friday night we went to the Mayor's Ball at Convention Hall. It is a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club and this was our first year to attend. We were able to fill a table with our friends the Hayes, Carrs, and LeBlancs, but so many other friends were there too! We got to dress fancy and spend a fun night eating, drinking, and dancing to raise money for a great cause.
Girls at the Mayor's Ball, minus Kelly! So sad she got sick!
Julie, Farrah, Claire, Shannon, and Me

On Saturday I woke up in full alert mode: we were hosting a dinner party that night! I got several cook books for Christmas and many were set up into "party" sections--the author would group dishes together that you could serve at a specific party! Now granted, I didn't follow any of their party suggestions, but it did give me the idea that I wanted to try my hand at hosting a dinner party of my own! I decided that I would handle all of the food if everyone else would bring wine!! I actually started planning this weeks ago--I knew that planning would be the key to a successful party AND a calm hostess! I chose dishes that were not only yummy, but I made sure that I was able to make a few of them ahead of time so I wasn't running crazy on Saturday night. I mean, I did want to have fun with my guests! For appetizers, I made cucumber cups stuffed with homemade spicy crab dip and goat cheese and panceta stuffed mushrooms. I also had a spinach salad and garlic bread (I cheated with these--bagged salad and frozen bread), twice baked potatoes (Pioneer Woman, for cooking club), roasted tomatoes, and tenderloin with a Gorgonzola sauce. For dessert, I served a red velvet cheesecake that I have to admit, was to die for. (I will post my recipes soon). I think everyone enjoyed the food and the company and overall, I thought the night was a huge success! Jay and Daniel even brought their guitars and we ended up having a jam session/sing along until 1am! We are really lucky to have such sweet friends in town. I just don't know what we would do without them!
Table setting-I decided to sit 5 and 5, boys and girls, instead of 2 couples and 3 couples

My place setting! I  was so excited to use my formal china, silver, and crystal!

Appetizer table, minus the apps!

Jay serenading us. I wonder what helped him play for 3 whole hrs?

On Sunday we went to Mass and then out to lunch at Cracker Barrel with our Young Marrieds group. I am so happy that this group has been so successful. As usual, we had a great time hanging out! I wish I had taken a picture of all of us, but the food was so yummy it didn't even cross my mind! Once we got home, Forrest and I were exhausted!! Can you blame us??? We ended up taking a much needed LONG nap! That kind of messed us up though, since we ended up staying up later than usual Sunday night and were woken up by tornado sirens at 4am Monday morning (or else, I should say I woke up--Forrest didn't even roll over).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chicken Tikka Masala

I found this recipe on Pinterest from http://themealplanner.blogspot.com/2009/07/slow-cooker-chicken-tikka-masala.html. I was instantly attracted to it because when we had dinner with our friends the Gandhis, they made us Indian food and butter chicken was my FAVORITE. I swear, I could have licked the plate (but since we had just met them, I didn't, I promise). When I stumbled upon this recipe and it called for a crock pot, you know I was hooked. The only problem was that I had to pick up several ingredients in Birmingham, but I was going there anyway so it wasn't a huge deal. I'm going to have to cook this a lot, because now I have TONS of Indian spices!!


Chicken Tikka:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp cumin
1/4-1 tsp cayenne (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt

6-8 chicken thighs (skin on, bone-in)

Stir all ingredients except chicken into the bottom of a large plastic container. Add the chicken and coat the chicken completely with the marinade, cover and place in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.

Masala:
1 can 28 oz. diced tomatoes
1 can 5.5 oz tomato paste
2 inches fresh ginger, grated (store your ginger in the freezer and it will be super easy to grate)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp tikka paste (could use mild curry paste instead, but then also add about a tbsp of lemon juice)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp dried coriander


1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
Salt
1 cup cream
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped


Turn your oven to broil. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a rack over top. Take the chicken out of the marinade and place on the baking rack. Place under the broiler about 6-10 inches from the heating element and broil on each side about 10 minutes. You don't have to worry about cooking the meat all the way through, you are just looking for a nice browned color.

While the chicken is broiling, in a pan over medium high heat, add about a tsp or two of oil. Add the onion and saute for a few minutes to soften. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for a few more minutes until the mixture is nice and fragrant. 

This crazy looking thing is ginger!!

The yellow is what it looks like grated! We peeled off the brown outside part first so it wouldn't be gritty

Place the mixture into your crockpot. To that, add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, garam masala, tikka paste, cumin, chili powder and coriander. Stir together. When the chicken is done broiling, add them straight to the slow cooker and stir into the masala (sauce). I have cooked and experimented with this dish quite a few times, and it by far tastes the best when the chicken is first broiled and then slow cooks in the masala sauce. It gives the sauce a real richness of flavor. Slow cook on high for 4-6 hours or on low 6-8 hours.

Before serving stir in 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp garam masala and salt if it needs it. I find this just brightens up the spice flavors a bit. Then stir in the cream and fresh cilantro. Serve a chicken thigh with lots of sauce over basmati rice or Yellow Basmati Rice: 2 cups basmati, 4 cups water, salt, and 1/2 tbsp of turmeric. Stir together and prepare as you normally would. When the rice is done, stir in 1/2 cup frozen peas.


This pic really doesn't do it justice! It was very yummy!!

 
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