Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Slider Bar and Nesting

Yet another busy, busy weekend! My goodness! I'm actually starting to look forward to the baby coming for the relaxation I'll be able to get in after he's here!
As I mentioned in a previous post, this weekend we threw a surprise birthday party for my brother-in-law and I was in charge of the food committee. When my sister and I first started planning for this party months ago I pitched the idea of classed-up "man food". Well, we stuck with that plan and decided the easiest way to do that would be a gourmet slider bar. Now personally I'm quite boring when it comes to hamburger toppings: ketchup, mustard, cheese, tomatoes and occassionally lettuce and pickles. When I make my own, that's all that goes on there. But so often I've seen fun magazine articles about dressing up hamburgers and I've wanted to try that - if not for myself, at least for guests that I have over. Well, we definitely accomplished that this weekend. Our topping options ranged from tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and hot peppers to goat cheese, sundried tomatoes, grilled pineapple, mango and blue cheese dressing. I even made up a fig BBQ sauce for it which smelled amazing but my prego tummy wasn't willing to try it. I kept some at home to try on chicken some night soon.
The sides for the meal were inspired by pub food: Bruschetta, Black Bean Salsa, Guacamole, etc and as a fun little kicker we bought a few orders of Onion Rings from Peter's Drive-In on 16th Ave in Calgary. We also did Chili Lime Shrimp and Sausage Skewers on the BBQ too. Lastly, instead of a cake which calls for more plates and cutlery, I made up a golf course scene by decorating cupcakes! I made up 2 dozen chocolate cupcakes and 2 dozen white cupcakes as the base for my course - which was really just one hole. For 7 of the chocolate cupcakes I made up a green-tinted cream cheese icing. Those were for the green. The rest of the chocolate cupcakes made up the fairway by being dipped in a thin icing and then into green-tinted coconut. Half of the white cupcakes were topped with blue-tinted cream cheese icing and were the water hazards and the rest were dipped in icing and then graham wafer crumbs for the sand trap! We set up a tee-box, a pin and hole and a ball on the course too and laid out the cupcakes across two cookie sheets in the format of a course. It went over great! The coconut cupcakes went a lot quicker than I thought they would and of course everyone wanted to try the cream cheese icing. FYI, I hate decorating cakes and the sort :) I'm a baker, not a decorator, so there was a lot of muttering under my breath while I got the cupcakes iced, but this was a fairly simple project and eventually I got the right technique for making sure the tops of the super-mosit chocolate cupcakes (I threw some instant pudding mix into the batter) stopped crumbing into my cream cheese icing. All in all, not the worst job I've ever done.
I actually did alot of cooking/baking over the past few days now that I think about it. On Friday I believe I mentioned my intent to make Strawberry Granita - which I did - but I didn't stop there. I also made up Strawberry Watermelon Pops, Chocolate Chip Cookies, the first 24 cupcakes for the surprise party, and most importantly, an apple pie. Matt loves pie. Like, he really, really loves it. And I rarely make it. Part of the reason is that I've never found a fantastic pie crust recipe. My Mom uses my Grandma's recipe, which is great, but I wanted to break away from family tradition and find one of my own. So I decided to try Julia Child's recipe for french pastry dough. She uses butter and a bit of shortening cut in with the flour and then she dissolves the sugar and salt right in with the water she adds. She emphasizes quite a bit how important it is to not over handle your dough and highly recommends blind-baking all crusts, at least a bit, even if you're filling them right away. Unfortunately I was being a bit brain dead while I made said pie. My crust was gorgeous. Yummy, sweet, not the least soggy... but I didn't realize I made a half recipe so I didn't have enough to do a double crust, just a bottom. Whoops! I figured it'd be fine and that I'd just mix and match with a crumble top - whatever. So I went to cut up the apples and I threw in a couple of pears I had sitting in the fridge and on the last apple I realized that I was chopping instead of slicing the fruit. What the heck?? I mean, I know I don't make pie often, but I should know better than that! I blamed that one on the pregnancy. Then I went to season the filling: I was low on brown sugar so it only got a bit of that but mostly it got some cinnamon-sugar I had sitting on the counter waiting to be used up. I added a touch of butter out of habit (my mom always does) and then went on the throw together a crumble of oats, brown sugar, flour and butter and then put the pie together and threw it in the oven. Do you see what I've missed? Well, I didn't so if you don't, don't feel too badly about it. Miraculously, the fruit cooked through (I reduced the heat and increased the cooking time) and everything was looking beautiful. After letting it cool a bit I cut into the pie and was amazed at how well the crust held together and how beautifully it came out of the pan. ...And then I was amazed at how much liquid quickly filled the gap in the pie plate. Then I remembered that I forgot to add flour to the filling. There was nothing to soak up all the juices from the fruit! How silly of me!! I did get away with spooning out some excess juices, but it really was the most successful brain-dead piece of baking I've ever done.
For the rest of my weekend I was focused on the party - Saturday I baked the rest of my cupcakes and did up some food prep for the next day. Sunday we were bad and skipped church so we could drive to Calgary and set up the party while my sister and brother-in-law were at church themselves. The party broke up at around 3 when the guys decided to go to the driving range and since Matt didn't bring his clubs we decided to pack up and go home... after a quick trip to IKEA. We've been needing more bedding for Gabe and the baby since they'll both be on crib mattresses and Matt really wanted to get Gabe a toddler bedding set with a comforter and all. So we spent about $45 on crib and toddler bedding and got way more than we would have spending $70 on a stupid "Cars" toddler bedding set from Walmart. Eventually we left IKEA and drove home, at which point we started talking about what to do with the rest of our day since it was still quite early. Matt was all for lounging and turning on a movie or something, but I got a sudden burst of energy (can anyone say "nesting"?) and talked him into working on the nursery with me. That had been a source of stress for me lately. We got Gabe's new room done and moved him out of the nursery, but the nursery itself wasn't ready to receive a new baby. But we busted our butts that night and got all of the old stuff out, the new dresser finally moved in (yay! It's not in my living room anymore!) and all of the clothes organized. I also deep cleaned the room while Matt did some minor furniture repairs so the walls, baseboards, doorjams and fixtures are all spotless. By 11:30 the nursery was as ready as we could get it, considering we still don't have a crib mattress :) Monday was, again, a productive day. We woke up a bit late but then got right to work in our bedroom, which had become a bit of a dump-zone for homeless items the moved out of the office and the nursery over the past month. I did a ton of laundry, cleared off every surface that had started collecting junk, cleaned out every corner of the room and vaccumed every inch of carpet. It's been a long, long time since my room looked that clean! The bedroom was done by about noon and then we moved on to the basement, where Matt moved some boxes into the crawl space and I started folding all the laundry I had washed that day. Matt got called away for a meeting at about 2:30 and his mom had taken Gabe for the afternoon so I started moving all of Gabe's toys from the main floor downstairs and organized them into bins and started setting up his play area. As soon as I can get Matt to help me with some heavy lifting things, the basement will be completely done too!
And that brings us to today. I slept in until 9:45 without even realizing it, I've hardly been productive all day and haven't done a single thing that can pass off as housework. I just hope for Matt's sake that I don't get another spurt of "nesting energy" when he comes home from work for the evening, because while it's nice to get stuff done, I think I'm wearing him out!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

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