Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mad Tea Party/Unbirthday Party

I love to throw parties - especially theme parties. So for my recent birthday party, I decided to go with a Mad Tea Party theme. Since the party wasn't on my actual birthday, it was also an Unbirthday Party. Unfortunately I have a small apartment and a limited budget so hosting events in the style I would like is often difficult. It takes a little creativity (and some favors from friends) but it can be done.

I'm a big fan of Evite. Online invitations are fast, free and environmentally friendly. They allow you to poll your guests and send them updates should details change. There is another great site called Paperless Post. This site isn't free but the invitations are made to look like expensive engraved invitations. The cost is pretty low (ranges from $.13 - $.05 per invite sent) so for events you wish to convey a more upscale feel this is a great alternative. They also offer notecards, save-the-dates, and baby announcements among other options.

I was very fortunate that one of my business contacts gave me a wonderful deal on a private space at the O Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. We were able to use most of the Mezzanine level which provided space for mingling and lounging. The venue provided votive candles which was great as candles without a protected wick were not permitted (pretty standard at most venues). The space was already quite interesting so I didn't want to distract from it. I purchased tea cups and saucers from a local thrift store to make my flower arrangements. I mixed and matched the cups and saucers for a more "mad" look and filled them with water. I purchased some type of flower (don't remember the name but if anyone recognizes the type from the photo, let me know!) from the local market and was able to make 10 arrangements from one bouquet. Very affordable and festive! Of course if you already have tea cups, that is one less step. Since I wasn't hosting this at my home, I didn't want to worry about transporting my good tea cups back and forth so it was key that I used something I could leave behind. Another friend of mine hosted an Alice in Wonderland themed birthday party earlier in the day and had purchased some funky hats from Oriental Trading Company so those were also added to the decor and were available for those that wanted to add something to their look.

Mini Cupcakes - 1 Box, 4 Flavors
What's a tea party without a little something sweet to munch on? Mini cupcakes are so much more fun that full sized cupcakes and people feel less guilty about eating them since they are so tiny. Thankfully this is where another friend helped me out by loaning me both her mini cupcake tin and some carrying cases. Finding mini cupcake wrappers proved to be a bit of a challenge but I'm happy to share that plain white can be found at Bed, Bath & Beyond and seasonal at Crate & Barrel. As you know from previous entries, I'm a bit of a mad scientist. So what better way to let my creative juices flow than to experiment with a box of cupcake mix!

1 Box White Cake Mix
Eggs & Oil (See Cake Mix for Details)
2 Classic White Frosting Containers
Cocoa Powder
Lingonberry Jam (Available via Amazon, at Ikea and Scandinavian markets)
2 cubes Dorot Basil (Available at Trader Joe's and Ralphs) or Fresh Basil
Garnishes - M&Ms, Jelly Belly Beans, Lingonberries (optional)

1. Make cupcake batter according to mix.
2. Divide into four portions, each in a separate bowl.

3. Add additional ingredients to batter. See below for details.

4. Pour batter into paper lined mini muffin/cupcake tin.
5. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees and then check cupcakes to see if they are done. Stick a toothpick in the center and if it comes out clean the cupcakes are done.
6. Bake an additional few minutes and continue to check for doneness. Baking time is not an exact science as the additional ingredients may require varying degrees of baking time. It is not recommended to bake more than one type at a time and/or in the same baking tin.
7. Allow cupcakes to cool.

8. Fill a pastry bag or regular plastic bag with frosting. If using a plastic bag, cut a small hole in one of the lower corners of the bag. The smaller the opening, the less frosting will come out at a time.
9. Pipe your frosting onto each of your cupcakes.
10. Garnish as desired or with suggestions below.
11. Try not to eat the remaining frosting.

Bowl 1 - Sprinkles
1. Mix in sprinkles of your choice to dress up the classic white batter.
Note: When stirring, the colored sprinkles will bleed and create a swirled effect.
2. Follow remaining instructions above.

Bowl 2 - Chocolate
1. Mix in cocoa powder to taste.
Note: I had originally intended these to be purple velvet cupcakes but messed up the proportions on the food coloring and cocoa powder.
2. Follow remaining instructions above.
3. Garnish with an M&M. (I used only purple for my party.)

Bowl 3 - Lingonberry
1. Mix in Lingonberry jam to taste.
Note: The jam adds moisture which will increase the cooking time. Also, the consistency will be a bit more like a muffin in the level of moistness.
2. Follow remaining instructions above.
3. Garnish with a single Lingonberry from the jam.

Bowl 4 - Basil Lime
1. Thaw two cubes of Dorot Basil or finely chop (by hand or in the food processor) fresh basil
2. Mix basil into batter.
3. Zest one lime into batter (I recommend tasting as you go to make sure you are happy with the proportions.)
4. Squeeze a bit of lime juice into batter if desired for moisture and flavor.
5. Follow remaining instructions above.
6. Garnish with a lime flavored Jelly Belly.

Note: Some cupcakes got a bit banged around during transport and others are missing because they were delicious.

The cakestands were also created for this event as disposable items. I purchased plates from the 99cent store and used a votive candle to separate the levels. Due to the clear plates, I was only able to glue the candle to the bottom plate as he glue would have been visible through the top plate. This lead to a bit of instability but for this party it worked. I would recommend securing both ends if you expect to use more than once and/or if you anticipate children or clumsy adults.

Specialty Drink
Offering a specialty drink is always a fun addition to any party. The O Hotel has an amazing mixologist and he actually created three different "tea" inspired cocktails for my party. Each used a different type of tea or tea infused liquor as one of the elements. Unfortunately, I walked out without picking up one of the little menus. If I'm able to get my hands on one, I'll update this post with the details. If you are hosting a similar event in your home, you can always keep it simple with one of the tea flavored vodkas or get crazy and create your own flavor combination using tea and your favorite spirit.

It's not much of a theme party if there aren't costumes involved! This is probably my favorite aspect of theme parties. For this party I wanted to keep it simple and easy but still "mad". Guests were encouraged to come in whatever they wanted - as long as it was a bit mad. Their instructions were tea party meets cocktail party and turned on it's head. There were a lot of great outfits and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun with it.

Hopefully this party has inspired you to think outside the box for your next party as well as in the kitchen. Look for details on my Oscar party soon!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Bachelor Dinner, Part 3

So this week we didn't go all out with the cooking. Amie brought over some delicious tamales and sides from Heirloom LA and we just added to that already delightful feast. The item of choice was Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup. While it is already pretty flavorful, we turned it up a notch with Tapatio spiked non-fat Greek style yogurt and chives.

Speaking of non-fat Greek style yogurt, this is a staple I highly recommend keeping in your refrigerator. Besides eating it as is (boring), you can do so many things with it and keep your calories low. Examples:

Besides the Tapatio version above, I've also done the following:
  • Garlic & Red Wine Vinegar to make a healthy aioli spread
  • Olive Tapenade to try to mimic the delicious fry dipping sauce from Nordstrom Cafe at Westfield Topanga. (Still needs work but was pretty good.)

Frozen yogurt popsicles - yogurt, berries (I used frozen berries that had been thawed.) and a little sweetener (I use artificial sweetener.) in the blender. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze!

I plan to keep experimenting but would love to hear if you have created a great substitution or recipe with this style of yogurt.

While I'd love you all to be registered users and followers of my blog, I have changed the settings so you can comment even if you choose not to register. I'd love to hear your feedback on this and any other topics!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Bachelor Dinner, Part 2

A little late but here is last week's dinner from "Bachelor Monday" using some new and classic Trader Joe's items.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Butter & Sage

This is a new frozen item from Trader Joe's. The package offers two cooking suggestions - microwave or stove top. We went with stove top to get a bit of browning on the gnocchi. Unfortunately these gnocchi are extremely fragile and the stirring it took to break them up resulted in more of a mashed potato consistency than we were going for. My recommendation would be to prepare in the microwave or to at least start them in the microwave and finish them on the stove top. Regardless of their appearance when we were done, they were delicious.

Smoked Apple Chardonnay Chicken Sausage

These were prepared according the the package on the stove top however we butterflied them towards the end of cooking to make sure they were cooked throughly and because we were hungry. If you wanted to decrease your cooking time, you could always do this from the start or even cut into smaller pieces.

Arugula Salad


Yellow Pepper

Red Onion


Herbs de Provence (We used Herbs de Provence that were purchased in France but the Spice Station is a great place for items like this.)

Balsamic Vinaigrette

Arugula and vegetables were combined with herbs de provence (portion should be based on number of people and quantity desired). Vegetables were chopped finely and not used in overwhelming amounts. Top with Balsamic Vinaigrette and serve.

Dinner served with a smile!

We enjoyed this meal with a red blend from Mission Point Winery purchased at Whole Foods.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

These Are The People In Your Neighborhood....

So for those that aren't familiar with where I live, West Hollywood is a beautiful and fairly safe city within a city (Los Angeles). We have unlimited recycling and more importantly rent control (I would tell you how little I pay for rent but I live in fear that someone is going to murder me just to take over my apartment - it's that good). While West Hollywood has all of these positive things going for it, it's still in the city which makes for some interesting people watching and odd observations. Lately I've been taking walks around my neighborhood and thought I'd share some of my favorites.

1. Sometimes new pets will adopt you. There is a cat that will try to follow you home if you give it any attention. It clearly is well fed but must not like it's owners. It followed me for about five blocks when I finally had to explain that there wasn't room at my place for the two of us. It stopped following me shortly after that conversation or maybe it was the butterfly it was distracted by.

2. The weekly can gatherers. Packs of people come out with their shopping carts on recycling day to roam around the neighborhood and dig through the recycling for cans. I feel bad that they annoy me so much when they get in my way when I'm trying to walk considering that their entire cart will probably net them less than $20.

3. People talk to themselves. I passed a lady the other day that was talking to herself. Not a homeless lady (though we do have some of those in the neighborhood occasionally) just a lady out for a walk. I wasn't sure if she was talking to me based on the way she was looking at me but clearly that conversation was only with the voices in her head.

4. Garage exercise. There is a man in the building next door to mine that runs around his garage like it is a track. This is an apartment building garage that only holds three cars. He just runs around in circles around the cars and poles. I could understand if we lived in a cold climate or the ghetto but it's just straight up odd.

5. Possible scavenger hunts. This is probably my favorite of recent observations. I was walking down the street and noticed three apples sitting on a wall at an intersection. Thought it was strange but maybe someone left it outside for the homeless. On my way home on the parallel street to the south had a giant empty bottle of Makers Mark at the same intersection. Was this somesort of strange scavenger hunt? If I had more time, I wanted to keep walking up and down the street to see what other clues might have been left for or by the people in my neighborhood.

I'm about ready to head out for a walk now and am hoping that Faye Dunaway (actual neighbor) asks me in for tea.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Bachelor Dinner, Part 1

For the past year my friend Amie and I have made a routine out of "Bachelor Monday". Usually this place at her house with Amie making somesort of delicious meal and me supplying the wine. With this most recent season of The Bachelor and a change in my schedule, we are splitting the cooking and trying to get a little more creative in the process. I promise to post previous weeks as time permits but below please find last night's amazing meal.
Please note: We usually shop at Trader Joe's which helps make meal prep easy. If you find yourself in a part of the country that does not have a Trader Joe's, just substitute as needed (and also write them to request one in your neighborhood!).

Pulled Chicken Tacos (Makes Approximately 6 Tacos)
1 package Pulled Chicken Breast in Smokey BBQ Sauce
Blue Corn Tortillas (or your favorite)

Purple Cabbage with Red Onions soaked in Rice Vinegar, Beets & Apple Juice (Note: This was a combo of items I picked up off of the Whole Food salad bar and mixed together. It could easily be recreated but I would recommend making in the morning or the night before so that the vinegar can do it's job. The onions had been soaking for awhile so they had that sweet yet tart flavor and the addition of the cabbage added the crunch.)
Peach Salsa
Blue Cheese

1. Prepare Pulled Chicken Breast per instructions on package.
2. Heat tortillas in skillet to warm but not crisp.
3. Top with cabbage mixture.
4. Add additional toppings from list above if desired.

Brussel Sprouts with Turkey Bacon
1 Package Steam In Pack Brussel Sprouts
4 Slices of Peppered Turkey Bacon
Parmesan, Romano, Asiago Cheese

1. Prepare Brussel Sprouts per instructions on package.
2. Cook 4 slices of Peppered Turkey Bacon in skillet.
3. Remove cooked turkey bacon and cut into bite-sized pieces.
4. Add brussel sprouts and bacon back to the skillet and toss until the brussel sprouts are a bit
browned and wilted from the bacon grease.
5. Sprinkle with cheese to taste.

Reduced Guilt Brownies
1 Package Reduced Guilt Brownie Mix (No-Pudge Brownies are the same and available in stores and online)
2/3 Cup Non-Fat Vanilla Yogurt

Low-fat Whipped Cream

1. Combine brownie mix and yogurt per instructions on package.
2. Bake per instructions on package.
3. Once cooled and sliced, garnish brownies with whipped cream and blueberries.

Note: Brownies were made the day before which made for easy preparation. There is also a recipe on the box for single serving if you are like me and cannot be trusted with an entire pan of brownies.

We enjoyed a bottle of Vinho Verde though I have also had a Spanish Granacha with the chicken before and it was amazing.