Monday, January 30, 2012

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake

When we think of treats for Valentine's Day, we most often turn our thoughts toward luscious truffles, decadent chocolate cheesecake, and other chocolaty confections.  Believe it or not, though, not everyone loves chocolate.  My mother is one of those who would rather have a buttery shortbread, coffee cake lathered in butter,  or a slice of delicious pound cake {she is a lover of butter}.  My sister gave me some vanilla beans when they visited for Thanksgiving, and I've been waiting for an opportunity to use them.  I can't wait to make some homemade vanilla extract, but I also wanted to try my hand at incorporating vanilla bean into baked goods.  After a little research, I felt confident enough to give it a try.

This pound cake turned out a bit lighter than most pound cakes I've had, but the flavor is excellent!  If you prefer a less dense pound cake, this one is perfect!

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake\
Printable Version

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
6 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup half & half

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar.

Slice the vanilla bean in half, lengthwise, spread open, and scrape out the vanilla seeds from the inside.

Add scraped seeds to bowl and cream until well incorporated.  {Reserve vanilla bean pod for another use}.

The inside of a vanilla bean looks like this when scraped out; don't be alarmed.

Those little specks are bits of vanilla--yum!

Beat in eggs.

Add flour, baking powder and salt, and mix until well combined.

Pour in half & half, and mix for about 5 minutes.  Pour into greased 10-inch tube pan, and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, 15 minutes, until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pan for 10 minutes, and then place on cooling rack to cool completely.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How To: Valentine Heart 'Tree'

This morning I shared with you my Valentine's Day Mantel and mentioned two tutorials that would be coming.  Here's the first tutorial on how to make those little heart 'trees' you saw.  Normally I don't post twice in one day, but I wanted to post this before the weekend, so that if you're heading out to shop for some crafting supplies, and would like to make one of these, you'll have the tutorial.  It's not difficult at all, and you may already have most of the supplies somewhere in your house.

- Felt squares {you can find these at most craft stores or fabric stores, usually for about $.39 a piece}
-Heart shaped stencil
-Hot glue gun and glue sticks
-Epsom Salt {or other vase filler}

1. Use your heart stencil to trace hearts onto the felt.  You can use a pen or marker, whatever will write on the felt, because you won't see the inked side once finished.  Cut out the hearts.

Please ignore my awful looking thumb nail!  {now that I'm drawing extra attention to it!}
2. Gather your twigs {mine happened to be leftover greenery branches from Christmas that I had intended to make a wreath with and never did it!} and determine how many you want to use per tree.  Also determine how many hearts you want per twig.

3. Fill vase with epsom salt and place twigs inside.  The salt will keep the twigs from moving around.  Another great filler would be Valentine colored M&M's, but I knew I'd be too tempted to eat them {Plus, we're using candy as a potty training bribe right now, and I didn't want my 2 year old climbing up to grab candy from my mantel decor for her success on the potty}.

4. Place a thin line of glue down the middle of the backside of the felt heart.  

5. Stick onto the twig, pressing gently to adhere.

6.  Repeat with remaining hearts and twigs.

And, here is the entire mantel:

No one will see my 'trees' from the back, but if you wanted to make this for a centerpiece or other spot where the backs would be visible, simply make double the hearts and place another felt heart on the other side, sandwiching the twig between two hearts.

Linking to:

Valentine's Day Mantel {that Cost Me Nothing}

The world of blogging has opened up a whole new world for me, including being less practical in my approach to holidays.  My college dorm was never decorated for anything, besides Christmas {it's probably a good thing I dropped out of the Elementary Education program.  My classroom would have been very boring--no cool bulletin boards, room decorations....}, and I've never really found it necessary to decorate my home for each holiday.  However, the more I've read blogs and browsed magazines, I've discovered that there is nothing wrong with having a bit of fun on these holidays!  And, I don't have to go crazy with it, spending lots of money and taking a ton of time to create something fun.  With just a little bit of thought, some planning, and creativity, holidays can be more festive and I'm finding that I like it this way.

When Beth, from Home Stories A to Z, announced she was hosting a Valentine's Day Mantel party, I decided I would go for it!  However, I didn't want to go out and buy anything in order to make mine.  This project was completely put together from things I already had, just spruced up a bit.

I tried taking this wall hanging down, but I don't like moving art around for the holidays, so I opted to put it back up.  Plus, there is an outlet behind it, so finding something that was large enough to cover that up was difficult.  I don't mind that it's there.

I'll show you how I made these little 'trees' in another post.  Super easy, and super cheap!

I have had this frame sitting on our entryway table for months, for the purpose of keys, etc.  It was the perfect participant with a little DIY art {chalk writes really well on thick scrapbook paper}.

I found these buckets some time last year, in the dollar bins at Target.  They can serve countless purposes, but best when not used as clutter in your craft closet, as mine were!  I'll also show you how I made those fabric 'poofs' soon.

What better way to express love than by a picture of the love of my life with me.  This photo was taken at my sister's wedding and I love it!

photography at my sister's wedding by Colling Photography

And, one last glimpse of the whole thing.  

Linking to:

Home Stories A2Z

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chicken Parmigiana

This dish is absolutely wonderful, and it would make a fantastic Valentine's Day dinner for you and your sweetie, or for your kids.  If you're celebrating alone, that's okay too!  {I had my own days of those times, mostly babysitting for other people to go out to dinner}.  The great thing about this is that you can make lots of the sauce, and freeze it, and only make as many chicken breasts as you need for that meal.  When you want another meal of it, just thaw the sauce, and whip up some more chicken.  Easy!

And, I will give a disclaimer here that I used a bottle of Ragu sauce for this {gasp!}.  I know, the 'Scratch Lady', as someone has termed me, using a bottled sauce??  Well, we recently joined Costco, and the first time I made a big purchase I didn't see crushed tomatoes anywhere, which is what I normally use to make spaghetti sauce.  So, I opted for the 3-pack of Ragu.  I add my own seasonings when I make it, so it doesn't go straight from the jar to the table, but none of us like it as well as the homemade kind.  On my second trip to Costco I discovered a very large can of crushed tomatoes for only $3!  That would make at least 3 batches of the sauce I normally make, so now that my Ragu is all gone, I'll be buying a large can of those tomatoes :)

This recipe comes from Pioneer Woman, but I changed it a bit, so my version is below.   If you want the step-by-step pictures, she has some great ones, which is why I didn't take any.  Ha!

Chicken Parmigiana

1/2 cup oil
2 tablespoons margarine {or butter}
4 chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
4 minced garlic cloves
3/4 cup cream sherry
1 jar Ragu pasta sauce (48 oz)
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Mix flour, salt and pepper in a wide-mouthed dish.  Coat each side of the chicken breasts in this mixture.  Heat oil and butter in large skillet.  Add chicken, and cook on both sides, until golden and crispy, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Remove chicken from skillet.

Using same skillet, add onion and garlic and saute for 2 minutes.  Add cream sherry, stir and cook until sherry cooks down to about half.  Pour in pasta sauce, stirring to combine and then add sugar.  Cook for about 30 minutes.  Toward the end of the cooking time, add parsley.

Place each chicken breast in the sauce and top generously with the cheese.  Turn heat to low, cover, and cook until the cheese is melted and chicken is heated through.  Serve over your favorite cooked pasta noodles {I used angel hair pasta}.

source:  slightly adapted from Pioneer Woman

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

My Photo Collage Wall

Finally, I finished a project!!  And, we're only, what, 3 weeks into January??  Where has the time gone?  But, it's done and I'm thrilled.

If you've ever hung a collage of photos on the wall, you know that it is no easy task.  One would like to think it could be something like this:


But, trust me, that most likely will not achieve the kind of photo collage you are looking for.

The method we used is probably not the most effective either, but it worked and I'm pleased with my wall of photos.

First, I placed all of my frames on the floor, rearranged them until I had what I wanted, and then I snapped a photo.  Confession:  this photo was taken in July, of last year; that's how long I've had these frames and been wanting to do this project.

Then, 6 months husband suggested stapling newspaper together (it was free since we already had the paper) to use as a template.

I then placed my frames on the paper, following my photo.

We measured between them (roughly) using that black device below {I don't know what it's called, but it's a ruler in the shape of an L, so you get 90 degree angles}.

Then, using a permanent marker, I outlined each frame.  If you're following this method, do this part carefully so as not to tear the paper and get marker on your carpet.

You can see how 'rough' our placements were.  We knew we would be able to adjust once the paper was on the wall.
Using masking tape, we taped the entire paper to the wall and started hanging the nails.  This took some time, and patience from my sweet husband, who willingly did this part for me.  He used my outlines, measured the space to the hook for each frame, hammered in the nail, and then hung the picture so we could see how it worked.  I think we only ended up with 3 extra holes in the wall :)

And, here is the finished product:

I'm a lover of symmetry and uniformity {if I find a shirt that I like, I usually buy it in several different colors}, so mixing up frame shapes and frame details was a stretch for me.  However, by using all black frames and black and white prints, it remains cohesive enough for me.  {I still need to get a black and white photo of my brother made, and the empty frame is for the little one due in April, so it will be empty for awhile}.

This was a fun project to do and I'm glad to have another little spot in our house finished.

Here are some great tutorials on hanging photo collages, if you're looking for something more professional. Ha!

Picture Perfect: How to Hang a Grouping, Better Homes and Gardens
How to Hang a Gallery Wall, Being Brook Create Awesome
The Hallway Full Monty, Young House Love

Monday, January 23, 2012

Creamy Potato Soup

Several potato soup recipes have come across my path in the past few months, and they each contained cream cheese.  Not something I would have ever thought to put into soup, but I figured I would give it a try.  So, yesterday I made up my own version.  I love that this soup doesn't require any milk!  Milk is so expensive, and I've tried to cut back on it in our family over the past few weeks, but I still feel like we go through it super fast.  A lot of creamy soups call for milk, but this one turned out great without it and I'm thrilled!

Another thing I like about this soup is that I didn't peel the potatoes.  And, no, they weren't red potatoes.  All they needed was a good scrubbing, and they were good to go in the pot!  Did you know that most of the nutrients in a potato are found between the skin and the actual potato?  The very part we normally discard!  So, not only are you getting a yummy bowl of soup with this recipe, you're also benefiting from the natural nutrients of a potato.

Serve this with a warm, buttered slice of homemade bread and your tummy will be happy.

Creamy Potato Soup

3 tablespoons margarine, or butter
1/2 cup diced onion
3 tablespoons flour
6 cups chicken broth
2.5 lbs. white potatoes, scrubbed and chopped {use less if you want more cream than chunk to your soup}
4 oz. cream cheese, cut into cubes
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
shredded cheddar cheese, optional
cooked diced bacon, optional

In a large pot, melt butter.  Add diced onions and cook over medium-high heat until onion is tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir in flour until smooth.  Add chicken broth and stir for about 10 minutes.  The soup won't thicken a ton, but it will thicken slightly.  Carefully dump in the potatoes and cook until potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes, on medium-low heat.  Add marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the cream cheese and continue stirring until heated through.  Garnish bowls of soup with shredded cheese and bacon.  {Chives would also be delicious}

Linking to:

Home Stories A2Z

Friday, January 20, 2012

One Step Closer to a Well-Managed Home

First of all, just wanted to let you know that I updated my post from yesterday, General Tso's Chicken, to include my recipe for fried rice.  Someone had asked for it, and I figured others of you might be looking for a super easy way to  make it.  

Yesterday, while running errands and purchasing my new book journal, I also picked up a 3-ring binder for another project that I'll be working on finishing up this month.  You may have seen this before, and maybe many of you already have one that you use, but I'm planning to make a Home Management Notebook.  My first exposure to this was in the book, Large Family Logistics (mentioned here), and I immediately thought that would be something that would help me tremendously in my endeavor to be a more organized homemaker.  I first read that chapter last spring, and am just now getting around to working on my notebook!

The first step for me was to look at some others who have also done this and figure out what I needed before just plowing ahead with it.  I also don't want to be too extensive with the information in our notebook, but it would be great to have everything in one place that I can reference each day {or at least routinely} to keep us on track.  Last night I found a great resource with tons of free Printables and I can't wait to get started!

Here are some images and links for you, in case you have no clue what I'm talking about and would like to know before I debut my notebook soon.  I also thought some of you may want to make one as well, so these links will help you get started {in case I don't get mine done over the weekend!}.

Hopefully, I'll be back early next week to show you my own version.

Have a fabulous weekend!