Thursday, November 18, 2010
Hello everyone, Kylie here :o) It’s well and truly that time of year – yes! – tis’ the season for much feasting!! And for many of us, with all that feasting comes much stress. For today’s blog post I will be attempting to impart some of my tips on “how to plan’’ your cooking for such an occasion(s). Whatever family get-together or party you are planning, on the day, it should be all about spending time with loved ones, having FUN and creating memories! Repeat after me – it is NOT about stressing over the little things, being stuck in the kitchen – alone, and being totally overwhelmed to the point of tears. (Trust me – I’ve been there too!!)
“A party should promise good fun, good company and good food. A light heart takes care of the fun, good friends take care of the company and a few good recipes take care of the food.”
Quote by Margaret Fulton – an Australian food icon.
I have loved cooking for as long as I can remember. My first ‘cooking all by myself’ memory is when I was pre-school age and my dad showed me how to make him a coffee. Ingredients: Hot water, instant coffee, two teaspoons of sugar and a dash of milk. Directions: Mix together, be extra careful not to burn yourself and now that you’ve mastered that you can make Daddy a coffee whenever he asks! LOL!! Well, from then on I was hooked. I helped my Mum out with all sorts of delicious (and not so delicious things – she’s a fantastic cook, don’t get me wrong, but serving up a pickled cow’s tongue is not something a 9 year old gets excited over!) What also helped lead me to my culinary path was the fact that I realised, very early on, that offering to make desserts, cakes, biscuits (cookies) all by myself was a great way to actually get to eat them (with four kids my Mum didn’t always have the time – so I was more than happy to oblige and taste test along the way!) In my late teens I was obsessed with dinner parties. I would use my family as willing guinea pigs. I would cook for special occasions and not-so-special occasions. I would excitably plan every little detail and for me, the whole dinner party would generally last a week – from end to end. Because “PLANNING” is the key to a successful and ‘relatively’ stress-free cooking event!
So what have I learnt?
Plan, Plan, Plan – it’s more fun if you are organised – now this doesn’t necessarily mean that you must have a formal step-by-step 100 point plan – it really depends on the event itself and how much time you have leading up to the day. But to have a clear plan – even in your head – prior to the day, will save you time and energy in the long run.
Initial considerations: What type of party do you want to have and then consider the When, Where, and Who. That will lead you to the How.
Determine a budget.
If you have decided to host a very large party, consider catering options and other professional services to prepare, cook, serve and clean up and any combination in-between.
Start your menu planning early. Think about the amount of time
you have to prepare and cook, both before and on the actual day. The equipment
you have available – it’s no good buying the biggest turkey if it won’t fit in your oven. Equipment also includes your serving ware – china, glasses, cutlery, specialty platters, glass dessert bowls – the list is endless. Friends and relatives can help with this too or you could consider renting items if you don’t wish to make a purchase for something you’ll never use again. The skills
you have and whether you’ve cooked that recipe before – it’s best to stick with what you know but if you really want to tackle that croquembouche
to impress your guests then it might pay to practise well before the big day. My advice is – keep it simple – good food doesn’t need to be complicated!
Think about whether you’d like guests to make a dish and bring it along. This is a great option for those that don’t have a lot of time to prepare a complete dinner party. Ensure everyone knows what the final menu is and what’s ‘expected’ of them. Or, you could opt for a ‘Potluck’ dinner – that always makes things interesting!
Consider any food allergies and intolerances that your guests might have and look for options.
Opt for seasonal produce – it’s fresher, tastier and more often than not – cheaper!
A well-balanced menu is best, so think about the recipes you’re choosing in terms of cooking methods, flavors, textures, appearance and temperature – are you opting for the same style throughout? Try and mix it up a bit – it will help you manage your preparation and cooking, and above all, it’ll keep your taste buds happy.
Read the ingredients carefully. Do you know what Vanilla fleur de sal is? Can you buy it locally? Can you afford to pay the $20 for a small container? Will you only need to use a small portion and the rest will live in your pantry never to be opened again?!
Once you’ve chosen your menu – organize all the recipes for easy reference. If I have quite a few I will often photocopy them and put them in a folder along with any other notes and lists I make regarding the dinner party. This is much easier than flipping through a pile of cookbooks every time because you accidently lost the page. Or if you get the recipe from the internet it’s very easy to print and file!
Don’t forget about drinks!
Have a back-up plan should some dishes turn out a disaster. Example – dessert – that could be something as simple as flavoured pots of ice-cream and some interesting toppings – make your own ‘ice-cream bar’!
Prepare a rough timeline for the upcoming weeks. Read through each recipe – both the ingredients and directions. Highlight and/or write notes on what can be prepared in advance – how long and also what can be frozen. Also make a list on when best to shop for your ingredients and whether you’ll need to order any specialty produce. Write a list of ingredients for each shop and double check you’ve included everything including weights/portions and the like.
I also LOVE cookbooks and food magazines that already feature a detailed menu. (This is how I started out and I still like doing it this way, even if I change it around a bit!) Generally they will include, along with all the recipes, a preparation timeline and a shopping list. And sometimes, a suggested wine to pair with each course may be included, which is a nice bonus as well as a timesaver. Now see, by using a pre-planned menu the hardest part of the preparation is already done for you – you just have to follow it and cook, cook, cook! They also have some great ideas that you may not have thought about doing.
Refer to your ingredient list and stock up on pantry items like flour, sugar, spices, and other non-perishables. This can be done well in advance.
Storage! Very important! Consider the refrigerator and freezer space you have and whether you need to re-organize and make space etc.
Up to three or so weeks in advance prepare any dishes – whole or part – that can be frozen. Be sure to label and date them. It’s surprising how similar frozen items can look – especially meat. Also some pastry items can be made ahead of time and stored in airtight containers in your pantry. These days most recipes will provide additional information like whether it is suitable for freezing and how best to store. For example – Blueberry Mango Tartlets with Strawberry Sauce – Pastry cases, filling and sauce and be made a day ahead. Storage: Pastry cases, in airtight container. Filling and sauce, covered in refrigerator. Freeze: Pastry cases suitable. Microwave: Not suitable.
With one week to go make sure that you have bought all the non-perishables on your ingredient list. If it is a small menu then leave this and just do the one grocery shop along with the perishables.
As the day approaches, prepare a more detailed timeline (running sheet) for the actual day. Write down all your tasks (food and non-food) in a logical order with approximate timings. Why not take the opportunity to delegate different tasks to family members. Following this ‘checklist’ on the day will make life so much easier! You know what you have to do and when to do it so you can track your progress. Plus everything is written down so just check it off as you go – the likelihood of forgetting to do something will be minimal. And that equals less STRESS!! And be flexible as even the best laid plans don’t always work out!
A couple of days before, organise all those non-food accessories like washing and ironing the tablecloth, finalising table decorations, checking that the new punch bowl that you bought especially for the occasion has been washed and is ready to go, etc, etc.
Take out the frozen items and start defrosting in the refrigerator a day or two prior.
The day before – this is the best time to buy perishables like green salad leaves, fresh seafood etc. Start preparing and cooking as much as you can to lighten the load on the actual day. Refer to your recipe information and timeline for guidance. Examples - make your mousse dessert to allow it to set overnight, make sauces, marinate meat, slice/chop some vegetables (e.g. onions ok but not potatoes as they will start browning if cut too long in advance and storing them in water will just leach all the vitamins etc.) , etc. Always store prepared ingredients separately in sealed containers and in the refrigerator – all dependent on what they actually are.
Set the table the night before and start chilling any drinks that have been in storage.
On the day – follow your running sheet! Remain calm! And Bon Appétit! :o)
My only other tip is TAKE PHOTOS – if you can’t do it yourself have someone else do it – even get the kids to practice their photography! Candid shots are great!! Take photos of family and friends cooking as well as enjoying the meal. Take photos of the food itself. I now realise that I rarely do this and I’d so love to have more pictures of the family dinner party “events” I organized over the years – the disasters and the successes! To me sitting around a table with family and friends, enjoying great food and conversation, is what makes memories! And those are the memories that I would love to scrap more of!
Here is a layout that I created with the only photos (pre-digital too) I could find of one of my earlier “Dinner Parties”. I mainly used this week’s Product Spotlight kit “Autumn Chic” – it’s on SALE until next Tuesday.
Best wishes to everyone for the upcoming holiday festivities! Enjoy the planning, the cooking and the eating!
Denise will be back tomorrow with a wonderful hybrid project for you all! Bye for now! :o)
Food Stuff, Inspiration, Uncategorized
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Hey everyone, Beckie here! I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starting to think about what to do for our annual holiday card. I love to take advantage of the time off over the Thanksgiving holidays to take our photos each year, so I thought I’d provide a few tips on a “do-it-yourself” photo shoot!
1. Scout out your location…and make it low stress. For me, this means the best spot for photos in my own yard. No packing up the family and no frantically searching for a potty when your three year old declares “I gotta go pee pee!”. Best of all…when you have a go-to location that is easily accessible and low-stress, it’s easier to get out there and do practice photo sessions (remember, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!). Be sure to consider the best time of day for your selected spot, the temperature (cold weather makes for red cheeks and noses!), and the background for your shots.
2. Get to your location and set up before you gather the troops. This is a low-stress way to make sure you’re all ready.
- I go to my spot with my camera around my neck, double check that my lenses are dust and smudge free, check the memory cards, and start taking a few test shots to set my ISO. Also use this time to set your aperture to a good starting value. For the photos you’ll see below, I set my ISO to 400 since it was an overcast day and my aperture to f3.2 because I was taking pics of my kids (as a rule of thumb, keep aperture above 2 for 2 people). I know I’ll have to re-meter once they get here, but it should be a simple adjustment of shutter speed at that point.
- Set your camera to burst mode. I know, I know – the professional photographers reading this right now are cringing! But kids blink, make faces, turn their heads, etc. Getting a rapid series of photos for each pose is the easiest way to increase your odds of successfully capturing THE perfect holiday card photo. And like we learned last week – it’s super easy to swap out closed eyes for open ones, allowing you to create the perfect photo!
- Put your camera to your eye and frame up a few shots. Think through a few poses (sitting or standing? together or separate?) and look through your lens to ensure that background distractions can be minimized. Remove anything that disrupts the pattern of your background (you want the background to be easy to ignore, not upstage the people in your photos). If you have multiple lenses, especially prime lenses (that don’t zoom to varying focal distances), make sure you have the proper lens on your camera for the pose you wish to start out with.
- Gather props. For a holiday shot, you might want to have a few props on-hand to let your subjects play with. For the holidays this can be a string of lights, a few holiday ornaments, or even a chair, bucket, or bench for your subjects to sit on. Don’t be afraid to try new things! Digital photos are easy to delete :)
3. All set? Bring on your subjects! For me, that means calling the kids over from the neighbor’s yard where they’re playing :) Get them set for your first pose and meter off your subjects faces, changing shutter speed as necessary. When shooting kids, I keep my shutter speed over 200, so if you see your shutter speed getting close to 200, go ahead and increase your ISO right now!
4. Whatever you do…don’t say “SAY CHEESE!”. You’ll end up with…cheese face. You know, that fake, plastic smile. Tell them funny stories, make funny noises (bodily noises, however fake, work wonders for this!). The whole idea is to keep it FUN for the kids so they stay engaged with you.
5. Take a test shot and double check the lighting – look at the image captured in your LCD screen. I love overcast skies for my photo shoots. They eliminate the complication of shadows, squinting, and splotchy shade…but it is a bit more difficult to make sure you get enough light on the faces of your subjects. This is why it’s good to have a reflector on hand for just this situation. Relative to most other camera equipment, a reflector is a low-cost tool that makes a HUGE difference. With my handy dandy reflector, I got my first good shot just TWO clicks into my session!
ISO400, f2.2, 1/2500
Here’s the “pullback” of this setup. You can see my daughter holding the reflector for me, and that it was pretty close to my son. It was perfect for reflecting light back up under his ever-present cowboy hat :) I stood right behind the reflector to my daughter’s right. Oh – and the reflector became THE BIG THING for the photo shoot. The kids were so excited to take turns holding the reflector and it became the perfect bribe: give me a good smile, get a turn holding the reflector :)
It’s very important that you remember to check your meter throughout your session! Clouds move, the angle of your subjects’ faces to the light can change, and other things that may require you to adjust your shutter speed up/down to keep your photos properly exposed.
6. Ok – seem simple so far? Let’s add in a second kid! I did take time to get lots of individual shots of each of my kids, which will allow me to use the best shot of each one in the event I don’t capture a great photo of the two of them together. Once I had a few poses of each child individually, I instructed them to sit “booty to booty” and this is what I got:
ISO400, f2.0, 1/3200
7. Looking through my camera I thought the above image was great, but when I looked at my LCD screen I realized that they looked kind of stiff. Neither one of them really knew what to do with their hands. It’s important to encourage interaction between your subjects so that you can capture genuine emotion. So for the photo below, I asked them to put one arm around the other person - and I really love the results! They seem much more relaxed and like themselves:
ISO400, f2.0, 1/3200
Here are two more examples of wonderful interaction between kids. These are our awesome neighbors (and friends my kids have had their whole lives!). I just LOVE these photos, they have so much personality and exude so much joy. The kids had a blast posing and you can tell!
ISO640, f3.2, 1/640
ISO640, f3.2, 1/1000
8. Kids will be kids…so be ready at all times! I got this cute picture of my son goofing around, which I love not necessarily for a holiday card, but because it totally captures his funny/silly personality. Even though he was moving around, my shutter speed was high enough to avoid motion blur.
ISO400, f2.0, 1/2500
9. The same photo above also brings us to the next lesson…your yard will likely have some immovable distracting objects in the background, like these trees behind my son. Truthfully, they don’t bother me so much. But if you you’re a perfectionist and want to get rid of them… simply use your clone tool! Voila…
I’m no expert with the clone tool, but I have played around with it and developed a technique that works for me. With the clone tool, the idea is to “copy” portions of your photo that you like and use them to hide portions of your photo that you don’t. So I used the grass behind my son to clone out the trees and bricks behind him. I generally make 2 passes over the area I’m cloning out, and vary the size of the brush I use so that I don’t have an obvious pattern duplications. This whole process took me about 10 minutes (and I was watching TV at the same time, LOL!).
10. Finally…keep it short. I’ve found that about 20 minutes is the most I can get out of my kids before they’re bored and ready to be done with me. One frame looks great – the next, their eyes are looking away from the camera, they’re not smiling, or just as bad – the smiles are totally fake. This is another reason why I prefer at-home shoots, so that we don’t spend a tremendous amount of time preparing for a shoot that will last 15-20 minutes. The shoot with the neighbors was literally about 10 minutes long and I got at least 15 AWESOME shots of the kids in 4-5 poses to share with their mom :)
OK, that’s it! I hope you are inspired by some of the tips here to plan your own photo shoot! Oh, and if you’re looking for the perfect holiday cards to showcase your incredible new photos, be sure to check out the new holiday card collection by Shabby Princess!
Come on back tomorrow – if you’re thinking of doing any entertaining this holiday season you won’t want to miss Kylie’s post!
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Hello everyone! Beckie here today to bring you another product spotlight! My favorite season is upon us and I’m loving the cooler weather. Halloween is behind us (I polished off the last peanut butter cup this evening!) and I’m looking forward to spending Thanksgiving holiday with lots of family. I love to fully indulge in everything that is Fall – so it should come as no surprise that I selected a wonderful collection full of rich autumn hues for you today!
So here it is…Autumn Chic!
My favorite part of the Product Spotlight posts is always seeing what the Shabby Artists come up with. And man, I have some seriously gorgeous layouts to share with you today!
Be sure to stop by the Shabby Shoppe to pick up Autumn Chic – on sale this week for only $4.75!! If you’d like to see these gorgeous layouts close up, check out the Shabby Artist gallery! You’ll find these (and other!) layouts there just waiting to inspire you.
Thanks for stopping by…see you back here tomorrow for another Focus on Photos post!
Product Spotlight, Uncategorized
Monday, November 15, 2010
Hi everyone. It’s Karen and I just had so much fun cruising through the gallery looking for this week’s Layout of the Week. Today, the honor goes to kammyam for her super fun and gorgeous page orange C. The moment I saw it I knew this was the one! I just love the adorable photos of her sweet son, her terrific jouraling and the beautiful design. And of course, I could hardly resist a page using my most favorite kit Hopscotch. Congratulations, Kammyam! Watch your e-mail for a $10 GC to the Shabby Shoppe and have fun shoppe-ing!
Join us tomorrow for a gorgeous product spotlight :o) Have a great Monday!
Layout of the Week, Uncategorized
Saturday, November 13, 2010
HAPPY WEEKEND :o) SP here to announce the ‘winner’ of Kylie’s awesome TRICK ‘and‘ TREAT recipe challenge! Thank you all SO much for participating and joining in the fun! Kylie created a yummy and challenging recipe and you girls ‘baked up’ some awesome layouts! The ‘winner’ of this recipe challenge is the talented ROSY with her ‘playmate’ layout! How stinkin’ cute are those pictures? LOVE LOVE LOVE! Congrats, Rosy – enjoy your gift card to the Shabby Shoppe (sent via email) and have fun shoppe-ing!
Thanks again to all of you who joined in the fun! Join us back here on Monday for more layout goodness as we announce the next LAYOUT OF THE WEEK! Until then…have a BEAUTIFUL and BLESSED weekend :o)
XOXO — SP :o)
Other Challenges, Shoppe News, Uncategorized