Basketball Brownies

26 Sep

Reese's Basketball Brownies

I jumped on the Pinterest basketball cake bandwagon and made this cute dessert for my father-in-law’s birthday. I baked peanut butter brownies for the base, instead of a more typical cake, to complement the Reese’s Pieces flavors.

Decorating brownies with Reese's Pieces

They’re certainly the most involved brownies I’ve ever made, with a layer of peanut butter frosting topped with a layer of ganache, but also realllly good. I just made half of the brownie recipe and made them in a springform pan. After frosting, I lightly pressed a ruler into the frosting to make a guide for the straight lines and used a bowl to make a guide for the semi-circles. Arranging the pieces went more quickly than I expected — even with sorting candies, outlining the shape and arranging the pieces, it only took about half an hour. Perfect for the time-crunched day after a 10 day vacation!

Reese's Basketball Brownies

Glad we were home in time to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Steve!

Faux Apple Tart

16 Sep

Tart Pan Gift

We recently attended the wedding of Greg’s former coworker, a friend who has since moved to Michigan for graduate school. I loved seeing all the apple-baking items on the couples’ registry; apple picking is such a fun way for Californians to take advantage of autumn in Michigan!

In addition to giving them an old-school peeler/corer, we wanted to give my all-time favorite apple recipe. I had the crazy idea of putting the recipe on the back of a life-size tart photo and putting that inside the tart pan (such a Greg idea). And it actually worked! The angle isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty convincing, right?

Apple Tart Recipe

I had a few photos of the tart from our autumn party last year, so I just measured the pan and resized a photo to fit. The pan is larger than 8.5×11″, but printers and office supply stores can easily print on 11×17″ paper. I printed the recipe on the back, cut it out and used a little bit of tape to affix it to the pan’s label.

Now I’m just waiting patiently for a little bit of Michigan apple goodness to arrive in the mail. It’ll be any day now, I’m sure!

End of Summer Happy Hour

4 Sep

Cocktails in carafes

I love happy hour. Happy hour and brunch. I’m not sure why I prefer to eat and drink at non-standard meal times, but it just feels so special.


So we hosted a little back-to-school happy hour for a few family members last weekend.

We made a few chilled snacks that we’ve been loving lately: goat cheese with herbs + crackers (As featured here, but cut down on the pepper!); Greek salad + pitas; and mango pomegranate guacamole + chips (So pretty! So good! Too hot! I love this guac, but even one whole serrano was uncomfortably hot for me!). Greg also successfully modified a homemade Wheat Thin recipe to make gluten free crackers; he just subbed in oat and rice flour.

Goat cheese and herbs

To drink, we served pineapple mojitos, our grapefruit gin and tonics, and pomegranate margaritas (based on this mix + a little extra tequila and lime juice).

Pineapple mojitoGrapefruit gin & tonic

It was a happy happy hour. It’s hard for us to believe that summer is already over for so many, since Greg won’t go back to school until late September. Go away, pumpkin spice lattes — I’m not ready for fall!

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

29 Aug

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

strawberry frozen yogurt | seakettle

As soon as I read “frozen yogurt in a food processor,” I was off to check my frozen berry supply. This summer full of cheap strawberries has kept both our fridge and freezer stocked, so we enjoyed our first batch of ice-cream-maker-free frozen yogurt that very night. Which is just ridiculous, really, because we have an ice cream maker and it’s incredibly easy and we love it. But this approach was novel, I had the ingredients on hand, and I was intrigued by using nonfat yogurt.

frozen strawberries | seakettle

I’m happy to report that everyone loved it, and no one noticed that the yogurt was non-fat and the sugar supplemented with Splenda. It’s a heart-friendly treat for those without ice cream makers (and the rest of us)!

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt (Without an Ice Cream Maker)
Adapted from The Food Network
Serves 4

3 cups frozen strawberries, hulled
1/2 cup sugar (or combination sugar and Splenda. We’ve made it with as much as 1/4 cup Splenda.)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoon rum
2/3 cup vanilla yogurt (nonfat works great)

Note: dial back the lemon juice and zest if you don’t like tangy desserts.

1. Add frozen strawberries, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and rum to food processor bowl and toss.

frozen strawberries with sugar | seakettle

2. Cover and let the strawberries sit at room temperature for about an hour.

3. Pulse the berries, and then add the yogurt. Continue to blend until smooth.

4. Transfer yogurt mixture to a lidded container and freeze for several hours until hard enough to scoop.

5. Enjoy!

Map Cookies

24 Aug

Map cookies with hearts | seakettle

A few of my girlfriends recently had a going-away tea party for our sweet friend, Kelley. I made these USA cookies with hearts to mark where we and she will be living for the next few years. Too far away!

Map sugar cookies with hearts | seakettle

This was the first time I got to use my map cookie cutter, and also my first real go at royal icing. I followed the recipes, tips and tricks from Bridget at Bake at 350. (If you haven’t seen her cookies, you should really check them out! Amazing.)

Map cookies with hearts | seakettle

I certainly won’t be giving up my mom’s easy-peasy icing recipe, but this is my new go-to for precision decorating.

I was happy with how well the almond sugar cookies held their shape and how hard the royal icing dried. They held up amazingly well to freezing and defrosting (on the counter sealed in their container! Seems so counterintuitive to me.) This icing is more for show than for taste (think party favors and themed dessert tables), but they were surprisingly good. I had no trouble downing several of these cookies with my tea and sandwiches!

Piping royal icing

To decorate my maps, I piped a thin line of light pink frosting around the edges and then flooded the middle. After the icing set for a few minutes (but before it started to get hard), I used tweezers to place a heart sprinkle on each city.

Flooding the royal icing

Adding heart sprinkles

Now as much as I love South Bend, no one else needs to move there! Dear friends in Indiana: please come visit me in LA. I’ll bake for you!

P.S. Good luck at ND, Kelley. We miss you!

Alphabet Shower Decor and Activity

28 Jul

french alphabet banner | seakettle

I hung alphabet flash cards as a garland for my French-themed baby shower. After a bit of searching, I found several adorable free designs — I’m so thankful for the generous individuals who share their high-quality printables online! I love these cards, but decided on the French cards — the most fitting for the party!

(The cute little clothespins are from Michaels, by the way. I tried standard clothespins, but they dwarfed the cards.)

Alphabet card book | seakettle

As a shower activity, I asked each guest to unclip a card and write a note on the back to the baby. I encouraged them to relate their note to the letter on the front of the card, for example: “D is for dragons and dinosaurs and dreams. I hope you always follow your dreams!” Writing letter-specific notes was a bit trickier than the average “leave advice for the mom-to-be” or “write a note to baby,” but so worth it. The notes were all very clever, thoughtful and cute.

Alphabet card book | seakettle

After the shower, I punched a hole in the upper left corner of every card and put them on a plastic ring. The cards were a cute shower decoration, activity, guestbook and gift in one!

Potted Flower Favors and Flags

14 Jul

Potted favors and decorative flags

As I’ve mentioned before, I love favors. For a recent baby shower, I bought a few six packs of annuals and potted them in biodegradable pots to give as thank yous. The mass of favor flowers also served as an instant decoration, beautifully covering the cabinet in my entryway.

potted flower favors | seakettle

I added little “Merci Beaucoup” flags to the flowers, and they were so easy to whip up! (The flags were so cute that I made extras for labeling the various cheeses served at the party.) You just need ordinary copy paper and skewers. Print one of the flag templates (“Merci Beaucoup” or blank) on 8.5 x 11″ paper and cut the flags out. Write out your labels, if using the blank flags. Trim the flat edge of a skewer down to 6″ with pliers. Dab a little school glue on the end of the flag and roll it around the top of the skewer!

Flag for favors | seakettle

Flag for favors | seakettle

I love that biodegradable pots are small, rustic and affordable. The tricky thing is that these pots are meant to dissolve in water, so it takes a bit of work to keep the plants alive without degrading the pot — even damp soil when potting them will make the pots soggy. They’d actually be better for succulents or other drought tolerant plants. I dried my damp pots in the hot sun before the shower, but the sun also took a few casualties!

We planted a few leftover favors along the path to our front door, and they are thriving in their sunny spot. I love seeing them as I come and go and remembering both the baby shower and new family of three!

Chocolate Honey Mousse

23 Jun

Chocolate mousse | seakettle

I’m hardly an expert on mousse — my most vivid memories of it include repeatedly sampling it at Notre Dame’s dining hall’s “fancy” dinners on the nights of home football games. Even though I kept trying it, I was always disappointed. My husband, completely independent of me, had the exact same experience. (We also independently concluded that ND’s (south) dining hall serves the only pizza *anywhere* that we don’t like. It’s strange, really, because the Notre Dame dining halls are generally fantastic.)

This recipe, the one I used for a French baby shower, was a mousse I really liked! It was also extremely easy to make, especially compared to recipes that require making a custard. It was less easy to put in the glasses, as it’s too thick to pour nice and evenly into small vessels.

Chocolate Honey Mousse | seakettle

The mousse is lighter on day one, then a bit stiffer after. It doesn’t change in consistency between day two and seven, so feel free to make it several days in advance if you aren’t able to make it just before serving.

I added chopped chocolate chips and cherries as garnish, but you can skip the topping or add whipped cream (as called for in the recipe) instead!

French-Themed Baby Shower

13 Jun

cheese board | seakettle

I recently had the honor of hosting a baby shower for my friend Grace. I particularly enjoyed planning this shower knowing that Grace’s affinity for Europe meant I could make the party a little fancy and a little French and not necessarily the typical baby boy party!

periwinkle statice and yellow rose arrangement | seakettleblue hydrangeas | seakettle

The day before the shower, I headed to the flower market for blue hydrangeas and came home with statice as well. Huge bunches of the periwinkle-colored statice were just $2, and they’re looking as lovely now (nearly two weeks later) as on day one. Amazing. I also had an overwhelming urge to change the shower “color” to red after passing gallon-size buckets of 10 dozen spray roses for $15! Amazing x 2. Instead, I added white and yellow roses from the garden to the statice arrangements.

cheese board | seakettle

For the food table, I arranged a sprawling spread of cheese and accompaniments. I used flags to label the brie, parmesan, cheddar, gouda and herbed goat cheese. Extras included croissants, breads and crackers, a pasta salad, walnuts, cherries, apricots, honey, dried cranberries and olives. It was great not to worry about cooking on the shower day, but getting so many dishes on the table was its own logistical challenge!

cheese board | seakettle

Greg also sanded a beautiful piece of wood to function as a cutting board, and it was finished just in the nick of time — guests were already starting to arrive!

pasta salad | seakettle

appetizers | seakettle

cheese board | seakettle

Activities included bingo and thumbprint-stamp balloons. Look for boy and girl versions of the bingo board to download in an upcoming post!

Baby shower bingo fan | seakettleThumbprint balloon print | seakettle

I also hung French alphabet cards that served as both a decoration and an activity. Guests unclipped the cards to write notes on the back for the baby.

french alphabet banner | seakettle

The shower ended with French desserts — pistachio macarons, chocolate honey mousse, mini chocolate éclairs and a raspberry crepe cake.

dessert table | seakettle

I had several near-catastrophes with my macarons and crepe cake — fortunately I made them ahead of time and not the day of the shower! In the end, they were both pretty and delicious. Whew!

mini chocolate eclairs | seakettle

My mother-in-law made the fabulous éclairs, one of her many specialties.

dessert plate | seakettle

pistachio macarons | seakettle

As a parting gift, I gave guests potted Sweet Alyssum. The tiny white flowers are sold (seemingly everywhere) in six packs, and I transplanted them into biodegradable pots. I added “Merci Beaucoup” flags, and I’ll include a template for that in an upcoming post, as well.

potted flower favors | seakettle

Many more shower details to follow. Now for the countdown to baby Max’s arrival!

Window Boxes and Trim

9 Jun

Flowers in window boxes

Did you know that there’s a disadvantage to living on a property with nearly 200 rose bushes? (I know, it’s hard to imagine.)

Windows, before


Roses need to be pruned heavily in the wintertime in order to bloom abundantly through the rest of the year. This means that from January through March, the front of our home has looked rather depressing. (I know that most of the country is completely flower-less from November through April, which I’ll acknowledge as even more depressing, but in LA the spring bulbs start coming up in January!)

Not long after I mentioned that window boxes might be a nice way to add winter color, my father-in-law happened to find three out at the neighbors’ curb. They were a little damaged and mismatched, but they were free and they showed up at the perfect time! They’re also a near perfect fit for our widest window, amazingly enough.

Window boxes, before

We sanded, primed and painted them. My father-in-law added brackets to the wall and they were ready to go!

Windows, before


New window boxes and trim

After. Way after.

I love them!

Now, as you can see, the roses are back in bloom alongside the window box flowers. The addition of some window trim, as well as the untimely death of my first batch of flowers (ranunculus!) while we were on a quick trip, meant the boxes were slow to reach full potential. Meanwhile, the lovely roses came back into bloom and surrounded them.

Flowers in window boxesNew window boxes and trim

I decided that this was as good a time as any to add some trim to our naked windows. I love trim and think most ugly buildings (like all the apartments in our neighborhood) would be vastly improved by adding it. Greg kindly obliged and picked up, cut and installed some trim around our two windows. We have a wood front door — complete with its own matching wood trim — making it hard to match everything on the wall. Yet even without being completely matchy, I think the white window trim is a great improvement.

Window boxes

I hadn’t anticipated how much I’d enjoy seeing the flower box flowers from inside our house, since our dining room table sits right beside this window. They make the sun-filled living/dining area an even nicer spot to work in!