Nov 18, 2012

My Only Sunshine First Birthday

You don’t have to make birthdays a huge fuss. This 1-year-old’s birthday is a perfect example of taking a simple design concept and utilizing it in all aspects of a party without blowing the budget or going over-the-top. Back in September, we were invited to Lee’s first birthday, son of Gretchen and Bryan. I swear, September and October are crazy months for weddings and birthdays. I think we had celebrated 12 birthdays between the two months! Well, birthdays for little kids are the best. They run around for a hour or so, open lots of gifts, get messy from eating cake and then pass out. Sounds like a great birthday, huh!? Lets take a look at all the wonderful little details in Lee’s adorable “My Only Sunshine” themed party.

Meet some of the important little people of the day. The birthday boy Lee in his white polka-dot navy blue bowtie, Ely taking a bite of her cupcake, Emery running around laughing and Kiernan looking like a gnome.

Walking right into the foyer, Gretchen set up a “Thank You” table for guests. She inserted lollipops in a styrofoam block for them to stand upright. The tags on the lollipops said “Thank you for brightening up my day!” Right off the bat, you get a since of what the theme was all about. All the graphic details were from Totful Memories, an etsy shop. Gretchen purchased this DIY printable party package. All she had to do was print out the labels, cut them out and arrange them accordingly. Amazing idea for those looking for a cohesive design.

Set at a different table, Gretchen provided little cards for guests to write a birthday wish for Lee. They would place their wish for Lee in the mason jar. She incorporated more of the yellow, black and white stripped/chevron design here as well.

At the mantel aka the birthday gifts and card area, Gretchen decorated the space with handmade pom-poms out of blue and yellow tissue paper and a “Lee” banner. Simply beautiful!

Of course, a party isn’t complete without food! The party took place in the early afternoon, so it was very fitting to serve sandwiches, fruit, dips and salads. It was a great spread. She had a wide assortment of cheeses, breads and meats. Guests could help themselves to as much food as they wanted. I know I had my fair share!

Saving the best for last, here’s Lee’s birthday cake and cupcakes! I just love how the cake and cupcakes were decorated with white frosting and a cupcake topper. The topper definitely stands out against the white frosting. The circle toppers either had a photo of Lee, his name or the word “one.” Even Lee’s highchair was decorated with an “I am one” banner.

Everyone sung happy birthday to the sweet 1-year-old. His mom helped him blow out his candle, but he had no help eating his cupcake. He enjoyed it so much! Thanks Gretchen and Bryan for inviting us to your son’s special day! It was a great celebration and beautifully put-together!

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Oct 21, 2012

Two food comas within one week…life is good.

September was a big month for us as far as celebrations go. Within one week of each other, we celebrated Jared’s 30th Birthday and our 2nd year anniversary as a married couple. I know this is long overdue, but I wanted to share with you where we dined for both occasions. For Jared’s birthday, we went to a favorite of ours, Tarrant’s Cafe in downtown, Richmond. For our 2nd year anniversary, we wanted to stick with tapas and Spanish food since we went to Spain for our honeymoon. However, we tried something different since the place we wanted to go to had a private event. We went to Mezzanine in Carytown, which happened to be a new favorite (when we have money) Haha.

Tarrant’s Cafe is not knew to us at all. We’ve eaten here several times and every time, the food never disappoints. They serve a variety of classics with twist. They have a strong Richmond following. It’s always crowded so I suggest reservations.

We started with ordering soups since it was a pretty gloomy day. The She Crab soup is a favorite of the locals. Sadly, I wasn’t too much of a fan. Don’t get me wrong, it was good, but my one big issue with it was the strong alcohol taste it had. It was probably the sherry or liquor in the soup that overpowered the whole thing. I couldn’t even finish it and passed it along to Jared, who didn’t seem to mind.

Jared ordered their soup of the day, which was hearty and filling on a cold, rainy day. We don’t remember what it was, but it was a cross between a soup and a chowder.

With our meal, we got toasted bread soaked in deliciousness of garlic, herbs and olive oil.  This was great to dip into our soup. I could have eaten all four pieces by myself!

And the real reason we decided to come to Tarrant’s Cafe was to try their infamous chicken and waffles. Before we ordered, we thought we’d get maybe 2 pieces of fried chicken with a plain, thin waffle. Boy were we wrong. Our waitress set our plates in front of us and we were both floored. What came out was three huge pieces of chicken (a leg, thigh and breast) on top of a freshly cooked, thick Belgian waffle. We were in heaven. Just look at how much you get for less than $16!

The chicken and waffles came with freshly cooked green beans that were perfectly seasoned. There was also this syrup that was both savory and sweet. We found out it was a combination of maple syrup, tahini and whole-grain mustard. Who knew that combination would work so well. So, even though we tried to finish our plates, we honestly couldn’t. Jared even had to throw in the towel. We had leftovers for lunch the next day, which made us even happier.

Within the same week, Jared and I celebrated our 2-year anniversary! We really ate pretty damn good that week. We decided to go to Mezzanine because our first choice fell through and I saw they had a Living Social coupon. $20 for $40 worth of food, not bad at all. I’m really glad our first choice didn’t work out because Mezzanine was a pleasant surprise. Hands down, it was by far the tastiest food I’ve had in a while. There’s something about this place that made us not care about how much we spent because the food was THAT good. The quality, the flavors were impeccable.

First on the list, order the cheapest bottle of red they had one the menu. It was infact cheaper than buying by the glass. This was a solid Pinot Noir, light and crisp.

We ordered the fried green tomatoes appetizer, which came with a red onion vinaigrette crab salad. The fried green tomatoes were exactly how I would cook them. They were sliced thickly, the exterior was super crispy. It was fantastic. The only thing I hesitate about this appetizer was the dressing, I wish there was more of it. The crab salad was a nice addition, but it was on the dry side. Just needed more sauce!

We ordered two small plates and shared between the two of us. The first plate was braised short ribs with a hoisin jus over top Byrdmill grits. We were both speechless. What else can I say about this perfect dish? It was buttery, tender, silky, flavorful, moist, sweet, succulent, rich and amazing. It was perfection on a plate. I don’t even think we said a word to each other since we were so focused on our meal! Haha. You know the food is good when it’s quite.

What could probably top the braised short ribs was their Carolina shrimp and grits. Seriously, I have never tasted something so delicious and so flavorful. I think Jared and I were fighting for the last bite. It was THE best meal I think I’ve ever had. It was certainly one of those kind of meals that leaves a mark. It was the kind of meal I live for.

We finished our meal with my favorite dessert, creme brulee. A nice finishing to end our dinner. All in all, our tab was a little high than we wanted to spend. But with a living social coupon and the fact that the food was INCREDIBLE, I couldn’t care less. Thank you Mezzanine for a memorable food experience!

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Sep 19, 2012

A Great Outdoors Surprise 30th for Jared & Justin!

Planning a surprise birthday for your significant other definitely has its challenges. The fact you can’t really plan anything at home because he/she is always around is half the battle. I certainly learned that I can definitely keep things a secret from my husband…haha. If you didn’t know, my husband is a twin. Him and his brother, Justin, were born just 16 minutes apart from each other. They’re very close and pretty much did everything together growing up, which included being in boy scouts. With that in mind, Justin’s wife, Amy, and I designed the ultimate camp-themed, great outdoors surprise 30th for them.

With a theme in mind, a limited budget and a strict guest list of 50 of their closest friends and family, we were set. To make my life easier, we hosted the party at Arianna’s Grill in Richmond. Even though the Italian food wasn’t in line with an outdoor theme, they do serve some damn good Italian food. Afterwards, the party continued at our house for more fun, yard games, drinks and late night s’mores. Take a look at all the details that were involved in surprising Jared and Justin. Special thanks to our helpers — Sharon, Sheila, Emily and Rachel — and for everyone else keeping it a secret since May! Amy and I couldn’t have done it without you!

The decorations were pretty important in this camp-themed party. I was able to get everything on the Internet. I shipped items to my work and stacked them under my desk…haha. I really looked like a hoarder. The first thing I purchased were these Chinese Moon Light lanterns for $40 off Etsy. I swear, Etsy has got to be the most wonderful thing on the Internet. These lanterns were used as part of the centerpieces.

To go along with the lanterns, I cut out fabric squares out of a woman’s wool skirt I found at The Salvation Army for $3. Can you believe it?! The skirt was large enough to cut out 5 large squares for the tables. I liked the rustic colors on the fabric, a perfect platform for the colorful lanterns. I also purchased an 11-oz bag of dark green softened and preserved Reindeer moss from Save-on-Crafts for $11.

Pine cones were actually a lot more difficult to find at a store like Michael’s since they weren’t in stock yet. They might be now. So, I had to buy them through Save-on-Crafts as well, which was fine because I think it was slightly cheaper. I got 1 bag of the Lodgepole pine cones, which were the smaller pine cones, and 2 bags of the Ponderosa pine cones, bigger pine cones, at $4 a bag.

I repurposed some of birch candle holders from our wedding and included them in the centerpieces. The small birch card holders were used for the food, drink and s’mores table. I designed little signs using a free font I downloaded online called Pinewood. The signs said “Don’t feed the bears” for the food, “Happy trails” for the drinks and “You wanna s’more?” for the s’mores. The birch just worked right into the woodsy theme.

The birthday sign utilized the same Pinewood font that were used throughout the signs and s’mores tags. With 2 great friends, Rachel and Emily helped cut them out the letters and helped me assemble them onto jute twine. They hung it at the entrance of the room.

So these were the wonderful, earthy and outdoorsy centerpieces. Each centerpiece had a single lantern adorned with pinecones, birch candles, moss and a photo of the boys. They were just perfect! I’m so happy they turned out great!

For more decoration, I blew up a photo of Justin and Jared while they were backpacking in New Mexico during their boyscout days. I scanned their photo and got it printed through Costco as a 16×20. We also hung up childhood photos of the boys all around the room. We got chocolate and dark green balloons from Kroger and placed them at the gift tables.

Lets move our attention to the birthday cake. How adorable is it! We ordered the actual sheet cake, half devils and half yellow, through Martin’s. It was only $45! Not bad at all. For such a cheap cake, it pretty yummy. As for the camp topper, I ordered it through an Etsy vendor called Parker’s Flour Patch. She was great to work with. She packaged all the pieces so carefully and even though a piece of the tent cracked, I was able to use water to put it back on. No one noticed a thing! I just love the two faces of the boys, the tent, fire and s’mores on a stick. It was so awesome!

Jared and I have eaten at Arianna’s numerous times, which is a big reason why we ended up hosting the party there. I wasn’t new to any of their food so I already had in mind what to order for a hungry crowd. I had pre-ordered off the menu making it more affordable in the long run. Most restaurants have a special menu for large parties or sometimes you have to pay per head, which ends up being super costly. We didn’t have that kind of money so we stuck with some of our favorites. We got 5 bruschette al pomodoro (aka bruschetta) appetizers, 5 orders of toasted ravioli, 8 philly steak subs and 6 cheese and pepperoni pizzas. It was just enough food for 50 people. We even had half a pizza left for late-night munchies.

As a thank you to our guests for coming to the party, we made s’mores packages. My sister was gracious enough to do assemble them the morning of. She included 2 graham crackers, 1 Hershey bar and 1 marshmallow into a clear plastic bag. She tied them with butcher’s twine and hung a tag that I designed that said, “Take home for s’more fun! Thanks for coming!” These certainly were a hit because at the after party, we started a fire in our chiminea roasted some s’mores! I think I had too many for my own good :)

Photo of us roasting s’mores at the end of the night! I had convinced Jared to buy a chiminea the week before. Little did he know I had a plan in mind :)

So that wraps up our surprise birthday for Jared and Justin. All the secret planning and running around was totally worth it. The boys had so much fun. I know I did! I just wanted to say THANK YOU to all for traveling near and far to attend Jared & Justin’s surprise party. The boys had NO IDEA and were completely shocked. I know they felt the love. It was one of the best days and I know the boys were so happy and grateful to see every single person that day. Totally meant a lot to them. Thank you!

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Sep 5, 2012

Homemade Taco Seasoning

From the kitchen of:  Makes: 10-12 tacos
Total time: 5 min to prep, 15 min to cook

Step away from the packet. Seriously. I found something better.

We’ve all gone down the taco aisle at our grocery store and picked up a taco seasoning packet for less than a buck. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Everyone has done it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong it, but don’t you ever wonder what exactly goes into that packet? I’ve realized through all the meals I’ve made that if you can make it better homemade, why not? I found a taco seasoning recipe online that I’ve used several times now and have tweaked it a bit. I will say that I will never go back to a packet. I’m a true believer that people should make their own taco seasoning. The flavors are just so much bolder and brighter. Nine simple ingredients, that you probably already have in your pantry, is all that it takes to make homemade tacos.

1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

1/4 – 1/2 cup water
1 pound lean ground beef

1. Combine all the spices.
In a small bowl, combine all nine spices together. The spices are just a base so feel free to adjust the measurements to your taste buds.

2. Brown ground beef. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium temperature. No need to add any oil since ground beef tends to have some fat. Once warm, add the beef and brown the meat thoroughly, roughly 5-7 minutes.

3. Add seasoning and water. I used relatively leaner meat (93% lean, 7% fat) so I didn’t need to drain it. If there is a lot of fat, I would drain it before adding the seasoning. Add the seasoning to the meat, stir and gradually add some water. Continually stir on medium low heat for about 5 minutes until the mixture has reached the right consistency. If it’s looking dry, add a little more water.

4. Make your taco! Assemble your taco by adding some beef and all your favorite toppings. You’ll never go back to the packaged stuff. Enjoy!

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Aug 19, 2012

Pork and Collard Greens over Rice

From the kitchen of: Seamus, my brother-in-law  Makes: 6-8 servings
Total time: 10 min to prep, 6-8 hrs on low in crock pot

I won’t take credit for this recipe. I have my brother-in-law, Seamus, to thank. He makes this crazy awesome pork and collard greens in a crock pot every once in a while. Since we moved out of their home a few years ago, we don’t have the luxury of eating this all the time. So recently, I emailed him for the recipe because we wanted to make it ourselves. When I asked for it, I learned that he got the recipe from his friend, James. So, a big thanks to James for sharing your recipe with Seamus and in turn, with Pretty Tasty Things readers. My husband and I absolutely love the salty and intensely flavorful combination of Old Bay seasoning with Worcestershire sauce. These strong spices permeate the pork and collard greens for hours in the crock pot allowing everything to get super tender. The juices from the pork and spices create such a bold taste. It’s perfect served over a bed of rice to balance out all the flavors.

1/4 cup Worcestershire
3 tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 bunch of collard greens, 2 if you have a big crock pot
1 pound crimini mushrooms, quartered
2-3 lbs pork shoulder (aka pork butt)
steamed rice

1. Prep collard greens.
Carefully rinse the collard greens under cold water to remove any dirt. Pat dry. With a sharp knife, slice the collard greens 1-inch thick.

2. Pack the crock pot. Place the sliced collard greens in the crock pot. Remove the pork shoulder from the packaging and place directly above the collard greens. Over the pork, add the Worcestershire and then sprinkle the Old Bay Seasoning. Cover and allow to cook in the crock pot for 8 hours on low.

3. Add mushrooms. About 2 hours before you serve, add the quartered mushrooms into the crock pot. Allow the mushrooms to cook down and about an hour before it’s ready, break up the meat and mix everything together with a pair on tongs. Serve over hot rice. Enjoy!

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