Work-Friendly Baby Shower

A lovely co-worker of mine is having her baby soon and we wanted to do something fun for her! ¬†Our goal was to have something low-key and not super awkward since it was during work hours and we work with mostly men ūüôā

If you have read any of my posts before, you know that a key to planning for me is advance prep…unfortunately life happened and I didn’t start prepping for this party until 8:00pm the night before (oops) but by keeping the recipes simple, having great co-planners, and indulging in a glass of wine/real housewives while I cooked/crafted I was able to pull it off!

See below¬†decor, food, and games – it turned out super cute and mom/baby were pleased ūüôā

The Decor:

The party was hosted on a Friday afternoon in a conference room at work.  Despite being at work, we still wanted it to feel like a baby shower.  The conference room was huge so I was nervous about any decorations getting lost, but by creating a few focal points we were able to dress it up!

The main focal point of the room was the food table (I mean everyone loves food so that makes sense right?!). ¬†I found the pomander tissue “shower” idea on Pinterest and had been wanting to try it for awhile! ¬†I have always bought tissue pomanders at Michael’s/Target and never again – I used a tutorial similar to this¬†and it took literally minutes to make each one. ¬†I will admit the “rain drops” took some time – I used paper and string I had at home and cut the paper into tear drops then hot-glued to the string and taped behind the pomanders (and the good news is these can be re-used)!

I purchased a white plastic table cloth at Target and found the banner there as well (why make it when you can buy it?!). ¬†I’ve also found that you can’t underestimate how helpful serving-ware can be in creating a mood for your party. ¬†Although the food would have tasted fine coming out of random tupperware, it just looks so much better when it all matches and there are different levels. ¬†Conveniently for me I got married two years ago any my sister is a registering expert so I have a ton of white platters, bowls, etc.!

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The food table!

Another “food table trick” of mine is to add a cute place for people to keep track of their drinks on the cups. ¬†I used the same paper as the “rain drops” and cut-out little hearts, then hot-glued them to plastic champagne cups. ¬†Adds a pop of color and a little detail!

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The next focal point was the gift/game table.  It is amazing what a flower bouquet from Target and a homemade sign can do to a conference room table!

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Finally (although the pictures aren’t great) we added streamers and a gold “F”¬†in front of the chair the mom-to-be was sitting to draw the attention to her! ¬†These tissue streamers were also purchased from Target and I use them for many of my parties!

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The Menu:

Baby shower food is some of my favorite, because it can be so¬†whimsical and sweet. ¬†Since this was an afternoon party I kept the food pretty “snacky” with representation from both the salty and sweet sides:

  • “Dunkaroo” Dip:¬†This is¬†one of the first recipes I ever “pinned” and I’m not sure why I haven’t made it lately. ¬†Anyone who was born in the late ’80’s knows how exciting it was when you opened-up your lunch to find the amazing frosting/cookie snack that was a Dunkaroo (and if you don’t you missed out – blame your parents). ¬†This dip tastes just like Dunkaroos and is super easy to make!

Dunakaroo Dip

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups vanilla Greek yogurt
  • 2 Cups light cool whip
  • 1 Box funfetti cake mix
  • Graham crackers or vanilla wafers

Combine the yogurt, cool whip, and cake mix and serve with cookies/crackers of your choice!

  • Pineapple Raspberry Punch

Combine 2 liters of lemon/lime soda, one gallon of pineapple juice, and one container of frozen strawberry lemonade for this awesome punch!

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  • Chocolate covered strawberries and Chocolate Mousse Cups

I used to think making chocolate covered strawberries was such a pain, but I dipped two cartons of strawberries in white almond bark in less than 15 minutes – this may be a new go-to treat!

For the mousse cups I used the pre-cooked Phyllo shells and filled them with a made-up chocolate mousse that turned-out really good!

I mixed 4 ounces cream cheese, one small box sugar free instant chocolate pudding mix, and 2 cups light cool whip. ¬†Then I added some vanilla almond milk to help the consistency. ¬†I brought the filling in a bag and filled the cups right before the party so they wouldn’t get soggy. ¬†I will admit that I could have filled them better, they looked like poop in a cup, but they were SUPER tasty (and I may or may not have continued to eat the left-over filling with the left-over vanilla wafers all week)!

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  • Mini Meat and Cheese Kabobs with Crackers

Simply cut summer sausage and crackers into cubes, skewer on toothpicks, and serve with crackers!

  • Popcorn and Sugar Cookies

So I had all intentions of making my grandma’s famous cookie recipe (remember this one?) but I just ran out of time so I went with the still cute and yummy store-bought sugar cookies!

The menu was getting more sweet than salty, so I added 3 types of popcorn with the “she is about to pop” theme – one cheddar, one caramel, and one kettle corn.

The Games:

Planning games has always been my least favorite part of hosting for some reason, so I’m thankful my co-worker Lindsay took over! ¬†As mentioned we work with mostly men, so something super cheesy was out of the question. ¬†We opted for one hands-on game and two passive games so people didn’t feel obligated to participate in everything. ¬†Here they are:

  • Celebrity Baby Game:¬†this was our “active game” where we gave everyone two minutes to fill-out this printable form¬†identifying which baby belongs to which celebrities
  • Mad Libs:¬†We passed around a baby-advice themed mad libs that the mom-to-be read at the end and was pretty amusing!

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  • Diaper Advice:¬†Finally we went with the classic diaper advice game – where we set-out diapers and people could write words of encouragement or wisdom for those late-night changes!

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It was a fun shower and the mom-to-be was happy which was the goal!

Cheers!

6 Healthy Freezer Meals

It was a productive Sunday at the Fox household – 6 double-batch healthy freezer meals, 3 Strombolis, and a couple super bowl apps done before 5:00. ¬†Boom. ¬†It is Super Bowl Sunday, and I feel like I’ve earned the drinks I’m about to consume!

My motivation for making healthier freezer meals this week was two-fold. ¬†1.) my best friend is about to have a baby and her husband eats clean, and 2.) I’m competing in a “transformation challenge” (aka workout more, eat better, and track results – operation Mexico bod) with my gym Orange Theory Fitness.

I’m never quite sure what to get my friends post-baby, but have found food is always welcome. ¬†I wanted to be ready when Jen and Bryan had their new little girl (remember they adopted Bauer!) but wanted to respect Bryan’s clean eating (he is doing awesome with his diet!). ¬†And for me, as I’ve said before, I do best eating healthy when I prepare in advance, so having 6 meals ready (each serving 4) is great for both of us.

Below are 6 fairly healthy freezer meals that are easy and tasty:

1.) Black Bean, Quinoa, and Sweet Potato Soup from Oh She Glows

I was craving chicken tortilla soup but wanted something a little different, and had this recipe saved to Pinterest.  It has simple ingredients with a lot of flavor!

2.) Crockpot Chicken Gnocchi Soup from Pinch of Yum

This is one of my favorite soups РI mean what is not to love about gnocchi, chicken, bacon, and spinach?!  I subbed the evaporated milk for almond milk to make it dairy-free and the consistency was still great.  Plus it is a crockpot meal, so you dump the ingredients and can move-on!

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3.) Skinny Eggplant Rollatini with Vegan Ricotta and Ground Turkey (adapted from Skinny Taste and Vegan Insanity)

I’ve made these Eggplant Rollatinis before, but this time made a vegan ricotta to make them dairy-free, plus added ground turkey to the quick marinara sauce to add a bit more protein.

4.) Maple Pork Enchiladas with Butternut Squash from Sweat Peas and Safron with Skinny Tex Mex Quinoa Casserole from ifoodreal

I’ve made these before, and they are a great fall/winter comfort food! ¬†The Maple Pork is a crockpot recipe and can be used for many different things – My husband loved it so much we decided to make a chicken version for the Super Bowl to serve with Hawaiian buns!

To make the prep easier I used frozen butternut squash, and added some garlic powder to it along with the chili powder to add more flavor

I made the Tex Mex Quinoa casserole to go with it but only used about 1/2 cup total of cheese to make it a bit more lactose intolerant friendly ūüôā

5.) Ground Turkey Sloppy Joe stuffed Peppers

I kind of made this one up – I have been stuffing sweet potatoes with ground turkey sloppy joes and decided to change it up!

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You can use any sloppy joe recipe, but here is what I did:

Ground Turkey Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

1 lb ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can kidney beans
1 can tomato sauce
1 cup chili sauce
1 Tbl Italian seasoning
salt/pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat the onion with some olive oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, then add the ground turkey and cook until cooked through.  Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes, then add the seasonings.  Stir  to combine then simmer for 10-15 minutes until thickened.

6.) Slow Cooker Balsamic Chicken from Jam Kat’s Paleo

I have made this before for Luke and I, and it was super tasty!  We serve it with brown rice.  Of all of the meals, this was the easiest to prep!  Just combine into a bag and stick in the freezer crockpot-ready! (sorry for the lack of pictures, this was one of my last meals and I was just ready to be done!)

Plus I also made a Stromboli, which is not so healthy, but an awesome freezer meal to serve with the soup and for a crowd! ¬†I’m sure there are a ton of recipes out there, but this is my Aunt Honey’s which means it is full of love and cooking wisdom ūüôā

Here is the base recipe:

Seasoning:

1 egg yolk (save white)
1 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tb olive oil
1 Tbl parmesan cheese
1 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp pepper

Mix together and spread over rolled frozen bread dough or refrigerated pizza dough then layer with your favorite meat/cheese

Spread egg white over stromboli then Cook 30 minutes at 325 degrees, seam side down

I made two different kinds:

1.)¬†“Classic” Stromboli with ham, turkey, and salami

2.) “Philly” Stromboli with peppers, onion, and roast beef¬†(my sister’s idea!)

After a busy day of cooking I am now enjoying some pepper nachos (mini peppers topped with buffalo chicken), buffalo cauliflower, cheese dip (yeah, yeah not so healthy), and wine!

Cheers, and go Falcons!

Book-Themed Engagement Party

This weekend I had the pleasure of hosting an engagement party for my college friend Kristen and her fiance Beau! ¬†It was so much fun getting to know Beau’s friends/family and celebrating a couple and friend¬†who has been so supportive of me throughout the years.

They are getting married at the historic (and gorgeous) James J. Hill library in Downtown St. Paul, so I¬†thought a book theme would be fitting and fun! ¬†I had some old books I had purchased from Goodwill left over from book crafts for my sister’s wedding (she got married at the same place!) that I used to create accents throughout the room.

We decorated the bar with a marquee sign using book paper letters and book paper pomanders (directions here)!  I also wrapped mason jars with book paper and ribbon to add a little more to the flowers!

To spice-up the plastic cups, i hot glued hearts to them as a place for people to write their names (by people i mean me, I always set my glass down and lose it!).  The outlines for the hearts then made great accents for the food labels!

I wanted to have some sort of activity, but with 25+ people I thought it would be tough to do an organized game.  Instead I decorated a mason jar and set-out popsicle sticks for people to write date ideas (not going to lie, the date ideas got more interesting as the drinks were flowing!).

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Kristen’s mom bought flowers from Trader Joes and set-out votive candle holders throughout the room which created a romantic atmosphere fitting for the occasion!

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Flowers and votive candle holders always add a romantic feel.

You guys know my thing is making food in advance and freezing it, but since I wasn’t hosting the party at my house (it was at the party room of my friend’s mom’s condo) I had time the day-of to prep. ¬†Plus the menu this time was much simpler with shared ingredients.

I got the My Favorite Murder podcast going (shout out fellow Murderinos) on the speaker and zoned out! (my husband found it ironic that while making food for a love-filled engagement party I was thinking about murderers).

I asked the couple what their favorite foods were to help plan the menu and Kristen came back with pizza and salad (girl, lucky you your favorite food is salad!).  So after consulting with my super-cook sister I decide to go with various types of flatbreads and mini salads as the main course.

The flatbreads were really fun to do, I got to get creative and overall they were very easy to execute!  I just used pre-made flatbread from Target, prepped them all in advance, and baked them at the party (400 degrees for 8-10 minutes).  I made five different kinds:

  • Margherita –¬†top the flatbread with olive oil and garlic powder, then layer thinly sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and mozzarella

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  • Sausage & Pepperoni –¬†top the flatbread with your preferred marinara sauce (i used Kirkland) and layer ground italian sausage, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese

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  • Apricot brie with carmelized onions –¬†top the flatbread with apricot jam and layer sauteed onions and brie cheese

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  • Buffalo Chicken –¬†I had pre-made buffalo chicken by cooking a package of chicken breasts with 1/2 cup frank’s hot sauce and a package of italian dressinng mix¬†in the crockpot (cook on low for 6-8 hours then shred, great for lettuce wraps!). ¬†I topped the flatbread with olive oil then the buffalo chicken, green onions, bleu cheese, and additional frank’s hot sauce

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  • Cheddar Apple Prosciutto with Arugula –¬†top the flatbread with olive oil and layer white cheddar cheese chunks and diced prosciutto. ¬†Top with thinly sliced apples and drizzle with honey. ¬†Add arugula after you bake it!

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For the salads, you guys know I want my food to be cute, so serving a giant salad bowl was out of the question.  I found these parmesan cheese cups  on Pinterest and they are my new fave.  SUPER easy to make and seem really fancy.  You essentially spread 1-2 Tbl parmesan cheese (I mixed with some garlic powder and rosemary) on parchement paper and bake for 350 degrees for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a shot glass so it forms a cup!

I used the same balsamic dijon salad dressing from New Years¬†¬†and filled the cups with pre-mixed salad. ¬†I loved the color and look, and can’t wait to fill these bad boys with dips, etc. – so much room for activities.

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To compliment the pizza and salad I made this Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Tapenade with crakers and Antipasto Kabobs (cooked tortellini marinated in italian dressing skewered with a mozzarella ball, salami slice, cherry tomato, and an olive).

For dessert, I made cream cheese miniatures and brownie bites.

Here is the full menu:

  • Antipasto Kabobs
  • Roasted Red Pepper and Artichoke Tapenade
  • Balsamic salad in Parmesan cups
  • 5 Different Flatbreads (Margherita, sausage/pepperoni, apricot brie with carmelized onions, buffalo chicken, and cheddar apple prosciutto with arugala)
  • Cream Cheese Miniatures
  • Brownie Bites

The food was a hit, but most importantly the couple had fun! ¬†We had several cheers to the happy couple and enjoyed getting to know one another. ¬†Can’t wait for the rest of the wedding festivities!

Congrats Beau and Kristen!!

 

Mini Cheesecakes

I am not sure where this recipe came from, but it has been my birthday dessert request since I was a kid. ¬†I love these cheesecakes because they have minimal ingredients and aren’t too rich.

You can make these in muffin-size tins, or for a larger crowd you can make mini ones as well, which is what I did for the engagement party I hosted (who knew they make mini vanilla wafers?)

I topped half of the cheesecakes with raspberry pie filling, and half with melted chocolate and sea salt (Actually i got rid of some old candy in our cupboard and melted some rolos, it worked great!).

Cream Cheese Miniatures

Makes: 25-30 muffin size, 50-60 mini

Ingredients:

  • 3 8 oz. packages cream cheese
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 5-6 drops lemon juice
  • vanilla wafer cookies (regular for muffin-size, mini wafers for mini size)
  • cupcake liners
  • pie filling or topping of choice

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and soften cream cheese
  2. Combine softened cream cheese with eggs, sugar, vanilla, and lemon juice
  3. Beat until smooth and creamy
  4. Insert cupcake liners in pan and place a vanilla wafer in the bottom of each liner (flat-side down)
  5. Fill liners about 3/4 full with cream cheese batter
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes (tops will crack when they are complete)
  7. Cool and top with topping of choice (pie filling, melted chocolate, caramel, etc)

Enjoy!

They are visually appealing, cute (as you know my favorite), and easy – enjoy!

 

My attempt at Macarons

For those who know me, when I get an idea in my head I become obsessed and need to accomplish it, like, yesterday.  Typically this happens with decorating, home projects, or cleaning but the other day I decided I was going to not only just make, but successfully make, enough macarons to give them as gifts to my extended family.

This all started back when I went to France for work and ate Macarons while sipping champagne with some local customers.¬† In general I like “cute” food (bite-sized, colorful) and I also like things that are a bit unique.¬† I got to thinking, hmm, what is a macaron made of which sparked an aggressive Google search.¬† In case you don’t know, they are basically just eggs, powdered sugar, patience, almond flour, and more patience.

My interest in trying to make them only grew when every blog post I read explained that they are VERY finicky.¬† “They can’t be that hard” I said.¬† “It will be fun” I said.

OK so once I got the hang of them, they weren’t terrible.¬† But “fun” isn’t the word I would use.¬† There truly is a science to these little buggers and some prep-time needed.

I decided to go with French Macarons (apparently there are multiple kinds?)¬†and pulled the recipe from this site as I found it easiest to read.¬† I also had this AWESOME troubleshooting guide pulled-up to reference what I did wrong each batch and how to fix it (Shinee knows what’s up, and is a true macaron expert).

My first couple of batches I was cocky – you just have to mix it together and bake it, right?¬† I was also multi-tasking (remember that sauce?).¬† A bad move, they require your full focus and some serious attention to detail.¬† I basically spent all day making them, and only 2 of the 5 batches turned out.¬† I had to fill 8 round tins and literally only had 24 “good” cookies before I was 100% over it.

Being a stubborn individual I couldn’t leave my project incomplete, so I went back and tackled the macarons again (like a week later, I needed a break).¬† Round two went MUCH better, and here were some key findings for me:

  1. Set your eggs out in advance: I didn’t age my egg whites like some sites recommend, but they do HAVE to be room temperature which can take some time.¬† I determined how many batches I was going to make in advance and set ALL of the eggs out¬†that I needed.¬† That way when I was ready to make another batch, I could just go.
  2. You have to actually wait for stiff peaks: I was very worried about over-mixing and a big part of my problem was that I wasn’t setting the meringue correctly.¬† It takes awhile for the soft peaks to form and you HAVE to wait to add the color/flavoring until you have soft peaks, and also HAVE to wait to combine with the almond mixture until hard peaks form.
  3. Oven temperature varies: Different sites show different temperatures, but for my oven 275 degrees worked the best (they were too crispy at 300).
  4. Sift and prep ingredients while the macarons set: Sifting the almond flour / sugar and letting the unbaked batter set to form a “skin” (super gross word, but fitting once you see it) are also two key steps.¬† I found it worked best when making multiple batches to sift and set-out pre-measured ingredients while the macarons set.¬† This way I gave the macarons adequate time to set, but also was ready to mix while they baked and avoided a bunch of down time.
  5. Get a back-log of your favorite podcast and drink some wine: It is a process, so some vino and My Favorite Murder (yes, I’m a murderino) helped to keep me entertained.

I ended-up making a few different kinds (from this site) and had enough to fill the 8 containers.  The fam loved them but more important for my pride I proved I could actually successfully make them (even if I never make them again)!

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Freezer Meal Friday

This #FMF is a bit of a #FBF since I made these a few weeks ago, so it works right?

Regardless, I hate that moment on¬†weeknights when you come home from work starving just to stare blankly into the fridge.¬† As a whole I try to eat healthy, but if I don’t plan my will power usually doesn’t last very long.¬† Lately I’ve also felt super busy – not sure what we are filling our time with but taking the extra hour to stop at Target on the way home, then prep, then cook, then wait, then eat just doesn’t seem feasible these days.

So long story short I’ve jumped on the freezer meal train and I’m loving it.¬† Essentially you pre-plan, spend half a day cooking, and you get a bunch of grub for your buck!

Although it¬†was 70 degrees in Minnesota (Global Warming isn’t so bad?!), fall¬†was in the air and with that comes my desire to light a pumpkin candle and cook.

Luke is a true MN Vikings fan and every Sunday watches the game, which means Stella pup and I have 3 solid hours to catch-up on Bravo, nap, be productive, and in general just do our thing.

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A couple Sundays ago felt like a cooking day for us (Stella napped in her Vikings jersey).  I met-up with my friend Jen (remember the one who adopted Andy!) in the morning and we went grocery shopping together to catch-up.  Note if you hate grocery shopping and love spending time with friends like me, I recommend this!  You get to chit chat AND feel productive!

I picked the meals out ahead of time and made my grocery list based on what was already in my cupboard.  Then once I got home I separated the ingredients by meal.

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I’ve done a few rounds of freezer meals, and find it is easiest to¬†determine which items need time to bake, marinate, etc. and start with those (in this case the sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash,¬†and¬†pork).¬† I also will browse the recipes to see how the ingredients need to be prepped (chopped, sliced, etc.) and pre-prep everything to get it out of the way (this is partially because I hate chopping).¬† Another approach is to just pick a meal and prep it start to finish, whichever floats your boat!

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Below is the list of recipes I made this time (some new, some repeats):

  • healthy-meat-sweet-potatoes– I freeze these in individual serving and take them to work, its great and usually lasts me two days.¬† I also subbed the ground beef for ground turkey
  • asian-pork-and-apples¬†– This was good because it was something a bit different!
  • chicken-and-veggie-enchiladas¬†– I subbed the chicken for ground turkey, the sour cream for greek yogurt, and put minimal cheese since I’m somewhat lactose intolerant
  • chicken-noodle-soup – (Per Luke’s request) I skipped the potatoes and evaporated milk
  • Spaghetti Squash Casserole – I was craving something with spaghetti squash so kind of made this up, but it was similar to this recipe on Pinterest (Big difference is that I used ground sausage and skipped the cheese re: lactose intolerant reference above)

Tip: If you know you like a meal, make it a double – half the work is prepping so you might as well maximize your time!

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All-in I spent $110 at Target and got 25+ meals Рless than $4/person Рand it included some spices which will last more than these meals!  Boom.

This makes weeknight meal planning so much easier, and is a great gift for expecting moms or a fun friend activity as well!¬† Happy #freezermealfriday ūüôā