Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Choose Your Own Culinary Adventure!

I love buffets. I love the idea of getting to choose from a wide array of dishes, mixing up tastes and having perogies, chow mein and sushi on my plate all at the same time. There's something so fulfilling about getting to eat food that you have chosen specifically.
Besides the buffet, there is a more trendy way to do this when you have company coming: the choose-your-own-toppings bar. It's like buffet micro-managing. You don't just choose which entree you want, you choose exactly what you want in that etree. Salad bars are old-stock but there are newer breaks in this wave that trend more towards the totally-fun-and-adventurous side of gastronomics. Back in May I helped throw a surprise 30th birthday party for my brother-in-law and arranged a sliders bar. We had your standard burger toppings, like pickles, tomatoes, cheddar, ketchup and mustard, and then we also branched out into things like mango slices, sundried tomatoes, fig BBQ sauce, grilled pineapple and goat cheese. It was an instant conversation starter. All day people were talking about what crazy things they put on their burgers and everyone seemed to have alot of fun with it.
Well, I've decided to reintroduce this "toppings bar" method into my home after a 6 month hiatus. First up: the hot chocolate bar!
Matt and I are having a bunch of people over for a turkey dinner around Christmas time; we're inviting over some of our friends who don't necessarily have lots of family around to spend the holidays with. Since we only have a 4 person table the meal is going to be a bit untraditional. Instead of sitting down to all the regular dishes, I'm going to make the regular dishes into more finger-food type dishes. For example, instead a heaping plate full of turkey with cranberries and stuffing with gravy, I'm going to make individual phyllo parcels stuffed with the turkey, cranberries, stuffing and gravy. We'll also have glazed carrot skewers and sweet potato muffins with a toasted marshmallow topping. But for dessert I wanted something fun. More fun than a regular cake or even just cake balls. So I chose the hot chocolate bar with a side of cookies. I'll have regular hot chocolate and white hot chocolate and add-ins like chocolate shavings, caramel syrup, peppermint schnapps, whipped cream, orange syrup and lots of different marshmallows. Something rather simple (way easier than the stupid Cardamom-Apricot Torte I made for Thanksgiving) but very personalized and fun!
In the New Year, my next plan will be to have a make-your-own-pizza party, a la Kramerica. I've got a great flatbread crust recipe which only needs 10 minutes in the oven so I plan to make a load of those, individually sized, and spread out toppings like figs, proscuitto, caramelized onions, olives, goat cheese (I put that stuff on everything), peaches, steak strips and fresh garlic. Everyone can top their own, I figure we can get 10 in the oven at a time, and then they can try a new set of flavors for the next round! And dessert that night: an ice cream bar with waffle cones for all with toppings such as shredded coconut with lime zest, chocolate sprinkles, stawberry syrup, cookie dough chunks and gummy candies!
I love layouts like this where people who want to can feel free to experiment, but those who are less inclined can always play it safe.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

Saturday, November 12, 2011


My goodness it has been far too long since I have posted on here! What can I blame it on? Really, just not thinking to blog. I can't really say I haven't had enough time to put up one blog post in the last three weeks. I've been busy, but not that busy.
It's been a great few weeks - full of visiting with family, Killer Bunnies, lots of baking and loads of stress taken off.
First and foremost, I've finally been in to see my surgeon regarding my gallbladder removal. And the verdict? It's coming out, and soon. I was worried that it would be another 3-4 month wait for my surgery after this appointment, which is pretty standard around here, however, thanks in large part to my surgeon's number of cancer patients, he likes to get his day-surgery patients dealt with quickly to keep his schedule free in the future. Which means, not a 3-4 month wait, but more likely a 3-4 week wait. And maybe even less. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to hear that this will all be over soon. I've been able to eat less and less the longer I wait, and the pain has gone from only being present when I have an attack, to my torso being tender and regular tinges of pain for no apparent reason. I love the whole losing-10-pounds-a-month thing, but really, I'd rather just keep up my exercise routine and eat well than live like this.
On that topic, I must confess I've been rather spotty about keeping up with a regular schedule. Ideally I would work out 5 days a week. Most days 6 a.m. rolls around and I feel wretched. It's hard for me to go to sleep before 11:30. Some nights I don't get to sleep until 1. I love getting my workout in, but a lot of times it just doesn't happen. Lately, however, it hasn't been happening for a whole new reason... I hurt my knee. The injury was the outcome of a long line of stupid decisions: the decision to try a new high-impact workout, the decision to not stretch adequately before said workout, the decision to do jumping jacks and high-knees on a more-or-less cement floor without good footwear on... I was about a quarter of the way through a new, compact strength/cardio circut when my knee gave out. I was smart enough to stop there and then, to ice it and to take it easy the rest of the day, and I thought it was more or less better that evening, until I knelt down to put the baby in his carseat and the exact pain came back. Silly me. So, we are now on evening 3 of icing my knee and hopefully when I wake up tomorrow, I should be able to get back into light exercise without any further injury. Incidentally, this is why people pay for personal trainers.
Now, on to perhaps the most exciting bit of my past few weeks... Pinterest!
For those of you who are unaware of what Pinterest is, it's an online pin board for ideas you find on the web. You can 'pin' photos of things you want to make, things you think are pretty or funny, or recipes you want to try and it stores them on your boards and shares it with your followers. Oh, and it is addictive. Ridiculously so. I was introduced to it by one of my lovely sister-in-laws. I needed a recipe for a potluck, she had found one the day before on Pinterest, shared the recipe with me and sent me an invite to join Pinterest. Well, the recipes (individual lasagna cups made in muffin tins) worked out great and I soon started to find more things I wanted to make on Pinterest. So far I've made the lasagna cups, pizza dough, cinnamon roll cups, pizza dip and pumpking frozen yogurt - all from recipes I found on Pinterest. It's also a great resource for toddler crafts and activities. I've been trying to do a new thing with Gabe every day and I think he's really been enjoying it!
I'm excited to try some more ideas off of there, like the truffle hot chocolate balls I'll be making for Christmas, or the hot chocolate bar I'll be setting up for a build-your-own-pizza party I'll be having soon.
So fun! Yay!

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)