Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Who doesn't love chocolate covered strawberries?  They are such a fun and easy treat, and they are the perfect Valentine's Day treat.  Plus, it's fun and easy to make them look gourmet.  They also go a long way when you buy a large package of fresh strawberries from Costco, for dipping.  The amount shown in these pictures was not even a full package, and we had plenty to spare. 

Here are my top tips to making your strawberries look and taste just right.

Tip #1
Wash and dry your strawberries the night before.
If there's any water on the strawberries when you start to dip, the chocolate or candy coating, is not going to adhere properly, or at all.  I wash all my strawberries, and then lay out a few sheets of paper towels and spread the strawberries out to dry, let them dry for a day before dipping.  If you're short on time, you could hand wash each strawberry, without dousing them in water, and then hand-dry with a paper towel.  You just don't want them to be wet when dipping.  

Tip #2
Temper your chocolate or candy coating.
They're are a lot of things that involve tempering chocolate, but for the simplicity of  just dipping strawberries, I just mean, heat the chocolate slowly.  This allows the chocolate from over-cooking and most importantly, to maintain its sheen.  If you're finding that your chocolate has a dull, matte appearance, check your tempering.  
When I dip chocolates, I don't test the temperature, and I don't even use a double boiler, I just use the microwave, and VERY slowly heat and stir.  Once the chocolate becomes more fluid, I add more chips, and stir those in for a time, before adding more heat.  

Tip #3
Chill your cookie sheet 30-60 minutes before dipping, and place dipped-strawberries on parchment paper, on the cooled cookie sheet. 
I have found that dipped-strawberries harden best at room temperature.  It prevents condensation from occurring from the juices in the strawberries.  But this tip allows for the chocolate to harden and keeps the strawberries lightly chilled.

Finally, I just have a few ideas to share about decorating.  I have used milk chocolate and Wilton candy coating, and both work similarly.  It really depends on your color/taste preference.  For these, I was just really set on pink.  I also used white chips to drizzle on top.  I drizzled the white by using a plastic bag and cutting the tip, ever so slightly.  I used this gold leaf once the coating dried, and then I lightly painted on some water, and then I adhered the gold leaf.  I also used a mixture of sprinkles and edible sparkles.  You could also use finely chopped nuts, shredded coconut, or more sprinkles (next time I make them, I'm going to take non-sweetened, shredded coconut, chop it up, and then sprinkle on top!).  The sky is the limit.  

There you have it!  I hope some of these tips help to make dipping strawberries a little more seamless.

Happy Valentine's Day

Nutcracker Cookies

I love to create new sets of cookies.  Designing a new cookie set is actually one of the best parts for me.  When I design a cookie, I first map it out in my head and start to get a feel for what I want it to look like.  Then I trace an outline of the cookies with the cookie cutter and draw it out.  With these cookies, I used pre-made icing decorations and hand-made ones as well.  I used a lot of edible sparkles, and I hand-painted edible gold on the details of the cookies.  Things get pretty serious in cookie decorating when you're holding a paint brush.  You start to feel like an artist painting a layered canvas, haha.  There's royal icing and then there's abstract oil paining.
I'm not sure if it's just the nostalgia from when I performed, or just because they are kinda cute, but these cookies are my some of my favorite!  I love the Nutcracker and always look forward to going around Christmas time.  Its' become one of our family traditions, especially since my two oldest girls perform now.  I figure I've perform in over a hundred Nutcracker's since about the time I was 12, and I can't listen to the music without feeling the need to start dancing. 
I hope you're enjoying this wonderful time of year!
Merry Christmas!

My Top 3 Design Tips For Your Kitchen

I just added a few finishing touches to my kitchen, and that got me thinking about the things that make my kitchen feel fresh, clean, put-together, and well-designed.  I came up with a list of 3 things that will add a POW to any kitchen, can easily be implemented, and ultimately are easy on the waistline, I mean wallet.  And don't get me wrong, there are WAY more than 3 things, but I really feel good about these 3.

 1.  Fresh Fruit.  I love fruit.  Plain and simple.  It's pretty and yummy, and it adds the best practical/functional touch to any kitchen.  And when I say functional, what's better than a kitchen with a nice bowl of delicious, crisp apples (with a little Biscoff spread on the side)?  It really adds a welcoming touch.  Really, what says 'wonderful kitchen' better than sending the message that 'you can eat in here' with tons of fresh fruit.  And with lemons and limes at $.25, you can feel pretty good about over-flowing bowls of them.  Plus, you won't have any shortage for your morning, warm lemon-water.

2.  Greenery.  Plants.  Nature.  Fill a small pot with basil, rosemary, or lavender.  It always brings out the best in any kitchen, and it might even make you feel like a gourmet cook.  The main design element I just brought into my kitchen was a dwarf lime tree, and it's adding the happiest/freshest vibe.  It's like a sweet little smile in my kitchen.  I got mine for only $40 dollars, and if I do things right, it could be a long-term relationship.  I read up on what it needs to survive, and it needs sunshine and tender care (fingers crossed).  I also love to have mint in the kitchen since it adds the yummiest garnish to desserts and drinks.  There's also nothing like having a little lavender plant close by to rub off some of its essence.  Lavender is just so beautiful, so it really just does its own thing.

3.  Blue China.  It is just so pretty in the kitchen, and all you need is a tiny bit to make a statement.  You could, of course, do a lot and go that route, but one pretty little bowl or vase freshens up a space quite a bit.  On the other hand, I have a completely unhealthy amount of blue china, too much to reasonably display at one time.  That whole functional/practical concept doesn't always resonate with me.  And well, the description that 'I'm a hoarder trapped in a minimalist's body' (or is it the other way around?) sometimes applies to me.  
There are a lot of places that have incredible Blue China, and they're usually a lot of money.  I'd prefer to save that type of money for other things, or just buy one special piece.  But I am going to share a HUGE secret:  I have bought almost all my Blue China from Ross.  Yes, Ross!  My mom likes Ross, and I never used to go there, but then a few years ago I went with her, and BOOM!  Blue China everywhere.  I have gotten two sets of giant, matching vases, and all of my Blue China planters are from there.  The large pot in the pictures posted here is from Ross, and it was only $7.99!  Run to Ross, I hope you find some!  Either way, add a touch of Blue China, your kitchen will be whistlin' another tune.

Have fun with these 3 tips. Make them simple, practical, and enjoyable.

This whole blogging thing has almost gotten out of hand, and I've blogged more in the last few months than I ever have (minus all the documenting I've done for our family).  But it's fun for me, and it's a place for me to share some of my interests, and pursue the thing that matters most to me; creating.  

A Boy's Room

This boy got a new room!  He's been hoping for a bunk bed for a long time, but every time I thought about him and a bunk bed, I though about him and a broken arm.  We settled with a lower loft bunk from Ikea, and it's perfect.  I know he's still going to be launching himself off of things, but I feel much better about this.
I posted links to a few details from his room below.  We love the swing and made it the spotlight of his room.  Right now it's on clearance as they bring in their new line of swings, and it's such a good price.  If you're looking to get one, buy it now.  You will love it!
I love this boy so much, I feel like I can't hold it in sometimes.  He has the greatest energy and brings the best joy and love into our family!  I'm so thankful I get to be his momma!  I love you times a million!!!

One of my favorite things that we did in his room was make the 'Lion Eyes' collage.  I bought the picture, and then cut it on a mat, and spaced it out evenly over three frames.  The frames are classic looking, but such a good price.  They are the 'Silverhojden' frames from Ikea.
Fringe Pillow
Tortoise Shell

Coconut Curry Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

This is one of our favorite meals.  When we're not stuffing our face with cookies, we love a wholesome veggie dish!  You know, moderation in all things; veggies for dinner and cookies for breakfast!

This dish is perfect served as a stew, over rice, or stuffed in a sweet potato.  It's loaded with the yummiest, vitamin-packed vegetables, is vegan, gluten-free, and leaves everyone's bellies full and satisfied.  And no one can ever eat just one bowl.  I've made it with a variety of different veggies, and I love using what vegetables I have on-hand.  
I got the recipe for the coconut curry from my sister-in-law Joanne, and then I couldn't resist stuffing it in sweet potatoes (one of my family's favorite things).  I've adjusted the original recipe a little; a few more vegetables, and a tad more spice, but the basis is her genius.  She created the recipe, and made it for a family dinner, and everyone was obsessed!  When she served it, I just kept going over to the pot and smelling its deliciousness.  She got all the flavors just right.
Here's the recipe below:
1 T olive oil or coconut oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 carrots, peeled and chopped
1-2 fresh jalapeno (depending on how spicy you like it)
2-3 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 apple (any variety), chopped
1 cup french green beans, cut in half
2 T ginger paste, or fresh cut ginger minced
3 cups cauliflower, roughly chopped
8 oz can tomato paste

2 T yellow curry powder
1 T cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon salt and pepper 

1 can vegetable broth
1 can coconut milk

1.  In a stock pot or large saute pan, saute onion, carrot, and jalapeno in oil for 4 minutes, or until onions have softened.
2.  Add all the spices, and toss to coat.
3.  Add the potatoes, cauliflower, ginger, apples, and tomato paste.  Let cook for 3 minutes.
4.  Add vegetable broth and bring all ingredients to a boil.  Once ingredients have reached a boil, bring to a simmer, covered for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are softened.
At this point, you could add the coconut milk and then serve over rice.  If you want more of a soup, with a few larger vegetable pieces, continue on.
5.  Puree about 1/3 - 1/2 of the stew in a blender, and then return to your pan (continue until you have reached the desired texture).
6.  Stir in coconut milk
7.  Serve with rice or naan, or by stuffing in a softened, baked sweet potato.  Garnish with freshly sliced avocado, a few green beans, and a few slices of fresh ginger.
Serves about 8

Go get these ingredients!  All of my ingredients were found at a local grocery store; no specialty stores.  I promise, if this type of vegetable-curry goodness is even close to your thing, it will become a weekly staple.


This little sweetheart was the best little helper.  She helped wash all the vegetables thoroughly, and I loved having her work with me in the kitchen.


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