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My Top Tips for Stress-Free Entertaining

April 29, 2016

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This is a sponsored post written on behalf of The Women Bloggers in association with @KendalKingGroup and #SoapboxInfluence; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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1 // Stick with what you know
This isn’t the time to whip out a new recipe. Stick with recipes you’re comfortable and familiar with. And if you are going to try something new, make sure to give it a test run beforehand or pick a recipe that you know won’t fall flat or be overly complicated to make. Your job as the host is to be at east, which in turn puts your guests at ease. Stressing over a new recipe that’s gone up in flames in the kitchen is not what you’re going for.

2 // Pick One Hot Item
The most common mistake I see when people host is they try and do too much. If you’re new to the entertaining game, or just looking for ease, stick with one item that’s hot/prepared on the spot, and make the rest of the dishes things that you can prep in advance. Last night’s party menu included:

-Burgers on the grill
Hummus platter with veggies and pita (using Bush’s Hummus Made Easy)
-Fresh berries
-Salad
-Beer, wine, iced tea to drink
-Someone else brought dessert!

It was easy to have everything ready to go. Burger patties ready for the grill, salad ready to be tossed with dressing, hummus platter prepared, and berries washed. The only thing left to do was fire up the grill and cook the burgers once everyone arrived.

3 // Play It Cool 
In the past I thought that I needed to have everything ready to go the instant guests arrived. But over time, I’ve realized that it’s best not to eat the second everyone gets to your house. Let people mingle, chat, grab a drink. And don’t be afraid to put someone to work in the kitchen if need be!

4 // Use Disposable Plates
For casual gatherings, don’t hesitate to reach for the disposable plates. Last night’s NFL Draft Party was the perfect reason to reach for disposable plates. No messy clean-up later, minimal dirty dishes and appropriate for the event. The same does not hold true for a more formal dinner party. 😉

5 // Say Yes to Help
If friends volunteer to bring something, take them up on the offer! It’s nice to share the responsibilities of making food and takes the pressure off you to do it all.

Madison

Food & Recipes

Morning Coffee

April 27, 2016

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When designing our kitchen, one of my priorities was to have a little “coffee nook” where I could keep all my mugs, coffee machine and a few other decorative items. As you all already know, coffee is my life blood and my day couldn’t start without a steaming hot cup of joe every morning, and a cup in the mid afternoon, and some decaf in the evenings after dinner. I mean, this blog is called Espresso and Cream for a reason!

We have a lot of ways to make coffee at our house (espresso maker, single-cup brewer, French press) but nothing ever really replaces the drip coffee maker for me. Single-serve brewers never make coffee quite strong enough for my liking, and the espresso machine only makes one espresso at a time – not ideal for a large group.

My drip coffee maker had been on the fritz for a while, leaking every time I used it and leaving a big puddle of water on the countertop. But I was so torn on what machine to buy that I just put a towel under the coffee pot each time I brewed coffee and called it a day. So when the Capresso team reached out last month asking if I would be interested in reviewing one of their coffee makers, I jumped at the opportunity.

I got the Capresso Coffee TEAM TS which has a built-in grinder so you always have freshly ground coffee for your morning cup of coffee. It’s also fairly compact so it doesn’t take up a large amount of space on the counter. This is by far the fanciest drip coffee maker I’ve ever owned, and I’m so in love. You can choose the strength of your coffee (anywhere between 1-10) and allows you to adjust the fineness of the brew based on the strength and type of coffee beans you use. To say my coffee game is much stronger these days would be an understatement.

With Mother’s Day right around the corner, I’ve been thinking about products with mom in mind. I would highly recommend this coffee maker for any moms in your life. Because what mom doesn’t need more coffee in her life?

Madison

*Capresso provided me this coffee maker free of charge, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Family

Slow down, momma!

April 26, 2016

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Like many days before it, one day last week I was rushed. We had been stuck inside for a couple days because of endless rain and cold wind, and I was, admittedly, going a little stir crazy being cooped up inside with a teething toddler who wanted to climb on all the things and a to-do list a mile long. That say, like every other day, I was trying to strike a balance between getting things done and being a present parent, engaged in Ainsley and her activities while juggling laundry and freelance work during nap time and answering e-mails while she played on the floor.

In the quiet moments at the end of the day, when I’m giving Ainsley her last sippy of milk and rocking with her in the chair, my body finally slows. My mind rests. I realize that without realizing it, I’ve been “sprinting” through my day jumping from one task to another trying to do it all.

“Slow down!” I hear a voice in my head say. “Find time for what matters.”

Ainsley was having a little toddler meltdown. But this time, on this day, instead of brushing it off or trying to distract her with something new I simply sat down next to her and started watching her play, letting her hand me toy after toy. Her mood instantly mellowed. She become calm and content and played happily with me by her side.

How did I miss the fact that my “fussy toddler” really just wanted my undivided attention and time? All she desired was for me to stop, slow down and sit with her, to see the world through her eyes. The greatest gift we can give our children is the gift of ourselves, when we’re not distracted or multitasking, just present and fully engaged.

When Ainsley wakes up early in the morning or cuts a nap absurdly short or fights bed time and comes to sit with mom and dad on the couch, I tend to get a little agitated. It’s my first response because I’m human and “my time!” has been taken away. But I read somewhere on the internet this week that you can change the conversation. Instead of thinking about those moments as interruptions, think about them as “God appointments” with our children. Special, unexpected moments that we get with them while they may have otherwise been asleep or doing something that didn’t require our attention.

Last night we put Ainsley to bed at her usual 7:30. She feel right to sleep without a peep, but around 8:30 she woke up entirely distraught, which was unusual for her. We gave her milk and put her back down. Still upset. I rocked her and cuddled with her until her breathing slowed before I laid her back down. Still upset.

Finally, around 9, Joe scooped her up and brought her into the living room with us to watch Dancing With the Stars. Ainsley doesn’t watch much, if any, television and is obsessed with music, singing and dancing so it was a very special treat. She clapped her hands after the performers danced and bounced up and down as the music played. She was mesmerized and we had such fun watching her. The night got even better for Ainsley when she got to share a bowl of ice cream with daddy. The look of delight and satisfaction on her face was priceless.

I don’t know what it was last night, but Ainsley needed us. She needed cuddles, time, attention and love. What a joy it is to be able to be the ones that she wants.

So today, slow down, momma. Find the moments in your day to give to your time and attention to your little ones. Love them, cuddle them, play with them. Put your phone down (I’m speaking to myself, too!) and observe the way they process the world around them. What they need most is you.

Madison

Food & Recipes

Weekend Breakfast // Brown Sugar Bacon

April 25, 2016

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Weekend brunching was one of my favorite things to do in Minneapolis when we lived there. Picking out a new restaurant or visiting an old favorite first thing Saturday morning, drinking really wonderful lattes and getting a slow start to the weekend. Since Joe and I are morning people (and now, so is our kid) we’ve always been the kind of people who were first to brunch, meaning we could skip the lines and masses of people, too.

Sadly, weekend brunch spots are very limited these days, so we’ve started our own breakfast traditions at home. Good because we save lots of money. Bad because I have to clean the dishes after. I love living in small-town Iowa, but man I miss all the great restaurant options in MSP.

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Joe would eat bacon every morning if I would make it, but it’s reserved for weekends in our house. I’ve taken to making bacon in the oven because it doesn’t make a mess and keeps the bacon smell contained a bit more, too. The lingering bacon smell is the greatest detraction for me when considering bacon-making at our house, but the oven or grill both work really well and remedy the smell issue for the most part.

This brown sugar bacon recipe isn’t really a “recipe” at all since I sort of just threw it together without measuring, but that’s part of the fun. It’s a no-fuss weekend idea that yields amazing bacon every time. Caramelized, sweet and salty and oh-so good. Even this vegetarian had to have a few bites. 😉

Weekend Breakfast // Brown Sugar Bacon
 
Ingredients
  • 6 or 8 slices of thick-cut bacon
  • Brown sugar (about ¼ to ⅓ cup)
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Lay bacon in a single layer on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with the brown sugar. Press the brown sugar into the bacon to coat evenly in a thin, even layer. Flip bacon and repeat on the other side.
  3. Sprinkle the top of the bacon lightly with the sea salt and cracked black pepper.
  4. Bake 15 to 18 minutes or until bacon is dark around the edges and crispy. Remove bacon from pan and transfer to another piece of parchment paper to cool. Bacon will get crispy and almost candy-like as it cools.

 

Food & Recipes

Hummus Platter Made Easy

April 22, 2016

This is a sponsored post written on behalf of The Women Bloggers in association with @KendalKingGroup and #SoapboxInfluence; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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As a vegetarian, hummus is my go-to food of choice for adding protein to meals and added flavor to sandwiches. It’s crazy how much hummus we go through in our house each week, and I’m the only one eating it! I’ve been all over the hummus board, making it myself from scratch, buying it in the store and eating it in restaurants. I guess you could call myself a hummus connoisseur – I know good hummus and really bad hummus.

Small-town living has changed the way I cook. We don’t have access to nearly as many food options as we did living in Minneapolis, meaning I cook at home nearly every night of the week. I’ve been trying to create more “restaurant-like” meals at home in an attempt to keep things fresh and fun.

With the warmer weather on the horizon, this hummus platter is perfect for summer entertaining. There’s just something so enjoyable about setting out a platter full of goodies and allowing the group to mix and match their perfect platter, right? Plus, it can be prepped in advance for stress-free entertaining, which I’m all about.

For this recipe I used the new Bush’s Hummus Made Easy. I’ll be honest in saying that I was a little skeptical when I first saw the package. Are you sure this is going to work? And more importantly, how will it taste? Believe me when I say that they now have a customer for life.

I know the Hummus Made Easy product is geared toward ease, but it also happens to make the best tasting hummus I’ve had in ages without all the junk that’s found in a lot of the pre-made hummus. Each packet contains a mixture of tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and spices commonly found in hummus recipes. All you have to do is combine the packet with a can of Bush’s beans (chickpeas or black beans, depending on the flavor) and pulse in the food processor. Since I like my hummus with a little texture, I only processed it for a few seconds and it was perfect.

Hummus Platter Made Easy
 
Ingredients
  • 1 packet Bush's Original Hummus Made Easy
  • 1 can (15 oz) Bush's canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • ¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese
  • Olive oil and cracked black pepper
  • Dippers and Garnishes
  • 4 to 6 white or whole wheat pita breads, cut into wedges
  • ½ of a medium English cucumber, sliced and cut in half
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Sliced red, orange and/or yellow sweet peppers (bell peppers)
  • Kalamata olives
Instructions
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the Hummus Made Easy and chickpeas. Process until you get desired level of smoothness. I like mine a little chunky so I processed only about 15 to 20 seconds.
  2. Spoon hummus into bowl. Top with the crumbled feta and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper to taste.
  3. Place bowl on a large tray. Arrange desired garnishes and dippers around hummus as pictured.

 

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