Tuesday, February 28, 2012

{our diy wedding invites}

 I have been dying to share our wedding invites for months now.  Wedding invitations are truly a long process and even longer when you decide you are going to try to do the whole thing yourself! We started talking about the main idea for our invites back in November, but started seriously working on them in January and finally were able to send them out late last week!

We always knew we wanted to do some sort of illustration on our invites, something that we could also use on additional paper goods at the wedding.  I asked one of the talented artists at my work to help us out and with our direction, he did an amazing job illustrating a crest for us- especially capturing our Boston Terrier, Muji!  Since he put the entire illustration into Photoshop, we will be able to modify the crest by adding or deleting elements or revising the text so that we can use the graphic for things after the wedding.

I special ordered the 6.5 inch square Kraft envelopes through this Etsy shop, they have the ability to make custom envelopes in a variety of colors/shapes at what I consider to be an unbeatable price- ours were only 60 cents each!  I had an incredibly hard time finding kraft paper envelopes with a pointed flap rather than a straight across closure like the ones we used for our engagement party invites which is why we ended up going custom.  We then lined the envelopes with black/white striped paper which we created ourselves and printed onto normal copy paper.

The main invite wording was by far the most difficult and time consuming part for us.  Getting the design, fonts and wording just right so that it would look modern and fun, but also sit well alongside the more intricate crest illustration proved to be a challenge.  Fonts are especially one of those things that I could literally spend hours messing with so I thought it would be helpful to outline exactly which fonts we used as well as where you can find them for download:


wording in crest: Copperplate Bold
cursive font in invite: commercial script
Natalie: Reina
Christopher: Ostrich Sans Black
address on main envelope, reply envelope & return address on flap: Ostrich Sans Regular
date on invite & "directions": Otama

After we finalized the main invite wording and design, we formatted it with the crest to be printed onto a 6 inch wide by 18 inch long piece of 110lb cardstock which would be folded twice to make three 6 inch square "panels."  We had the invites and the double sided directions printed at Columbia Printing in downtown LA, these are the same people who printed our save the dates.

For the reply cards, we choose to use the white 4-bar sized envelopes from Paper Source which we lined in Kraft paper.  We then whipped up a simple reply card and printed it ourselves which I thoroughly regret doing- not because they look bad or were particularly difficult to print, but simply because Columbia Printing is so insanely reasonable and we should have just asked them to print/cut these as well.  The reply card and the 4.5 inch square map are secured in a diagonal slit in the third "panel" of the main invite.

Based on the main invite design, I also created similar labels for our return address printed on the pointed envelope flap and the main address printed on the reply envelope.  Figuring out how to format this to print correctly in our printer took every last piece of my patience, but in the end I think the cohesive look was well worth it.  So long as you have a printer with a top loading rear-feed tray you will be able to print on your own envelopes.

{the spoils of envelope lining}

While I am by no means an expert, I am more than happy to help with any additional questions you might have about making your own wedding or event invites - feel free to contact me!

Monday, February 27, 2012

{no-bake nutella cheesecake}

Over the weekend, we were invited to a Pinot tasting party and I offered to bring a dessert.  Since the meal was going to be mostly appetizers and tapas, I wanted to make something that would be already portioned and ready to serve individually so that the guests could pick up dessert as they pleased.  I came across this recipe for no-bake nutella cheesecake and knew it would be perfect since the party's host is obsessed with nutella.  This recipe is incredibly easy and quick to make with the end result being incredibly decadent.  Each portion was licked clean by the end of the night which I would say is a sign of a successful dessert.  The only change I made to the original recipe was to add a thin layer of salted caramel sauce between the nutella and the whipped cream topping.

To spruce up the cups, I searched for a funny vintage image which I printed onto cardstock, cut out with my one-inch circle punch and then attached one of each side of a skewer.

{using a large ziploc bag to evenly distribute the nutella filling}

{salted caramel topping from Trader Joe's}

{originally we were going to use these edible gold stars to garnish the whipped cream, but if you let them sit too long they turn into yellow splotches- so we opted for the chocolate shavings you see in the below photo}

Friday, February 24, 2012

{friday cocktail: cardamom rose}

If you didn't get enough of all the pink and red-hued cocktails surrounding Valentine's day last week then you are in luck because this Friday's cocktail is not only soft pink in color, but one of it's main ingredients is rose syrup (lets just keep the Valentine Day train rolling for as long as possible shall we?).  This recipe comes from a bar in Philadelphia called Apothecary (which is now closed) and you can see the original recipe here.  You will need to whip up a batch of rose water syrup for this cocktail by following this recipe and you should be able to find rose water at any local middle eastern grocery supply or right here.  Another option is to substitute the home-made rose water syrup with a pre-made rose flavored syrup like this one.  This is a very light cocktail, the flavors of the grapefruit and cardamom are very subtle while the rose syrup really steals the show.  Here is my slightly modified version of the recipe:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

{host your own series: prep-ahead dinner party}

With all the wedding madness, our weekends fill up pretty quickly which is why I really love hosting dinner parties during the week.  The only issue with a weeknight party is the limited amount of time allowed for prepping the meal based on mine and Chris' work schedules.  We decided to throw this particular dinner party in honor of my one year blog-anniversary and developed a menu which could almost entirely be prepped the night before.  The folks over at Lean on Lamb generously offered to send us some lamb shanks for this meal so we based the menu planning around those.  Here is the full menu we served with links to recipes:




 (provided by Heather of Bourbonandbleu.com)

A few quick notes on the above menu....
  • If you are looking to save even more time on the meal prep I would recommend subbing the baked brie bites for a simple cheese plate or one of Trader Joe's amazing frozen appetizers such as the Feta & Carmelized Onions Bites or the Parmesan Palmiers.  You are making an entire meal for your friends, they wont be disappointed if you didnt make the appetizers from scratch.
  • We followed the Kale salad recipe in the link, but we also added toasted pine nuts and thinly sliced red onions.  
  • For the polenta, we followed 101 Cookbooks recipe, but left the polenta in the fridge overnight rather than baking it into "fries". 

For a simple tablescape, I picked up a roll of Kraft paper from our local office supply store to use as a table runner.  Rather than doing traditional place cards, I wrote each guest's name directly onto the kraft paper at their designated seat.  Another simple use for a kraft paper roll is to cut it into individual placemats and stamp the guest's names a la Camille Styles.  I then sprinkled some tealights around the table and used this floral arrangement for the centerpiece. 

{purple potatoes}

{cilantro to garnish}

{we place salt and freshly ground pepper on the table in these small dishes}

{simple place settings with tealights}

{kraft paper table runner with place settings written directly at each seat}


{braised lamb shanks}

{roasted vegetables straight out of the oven, we added rosemary to this recipe and it made all the difference}

{polenta stored overnight in a large ziploc}

{plating the meal starting with a bed of creamy polenta}

{making up a batch of cocktails before guests arrive}
{opening a bottle of Tenuta La Luma Cadetto, which turned out to be the favorite wine of the night}

{kale & tahini salad}

{plated meal ready to be served, garnished with lightly pickled red onions & fresh cilantro}

{citrus pudding garnished with a rosemary shortbread cookie}

{chris' secret to keeping everything in order right before guests arrive: chicken 
scratch written schedule taped to the cupboard}

Because we developed this entire menu with the goal of being able to prepare 90% of the meal ahead of time, I thought it would be helpful to share a simple timeline of what parts of the 
meal/dish to prepare and when.  Even if you are hosting a dinner party on a weekend night, 
I think being able to spend your Saturday and Sunday relaxing out of the 
kitchen (i.e. drinking wine on the couch) is invaluable. 

two days before:
  • Make a grocery list and check it against any items you already have in your pantry.  You can pick up all items for this meal ahead of time.
  • Confirm you have enough spices, salt, oils, butter- I am sure that you don't make this mistake, but I can't count the amount of times I haven't purchased butter because I had some in the fridge, but when I started cooking I realized I was one stick short.
  • Clear out expired and old items from the refrigerator to create adequate space for the dishes- the worst thing is to be rearranging tupperware and throwing out old half & half to make room for a big container of prepped salad.

the day before:
  • Braise the lamb (once complete, refrigerate the meat and strained cooking liquid in separate containers)
  • Assemble the salad (for the Kale salad we were able to dress it the night before)
  • Make the Polenta and store in a large Ziploc bag in the fridge
  • Par-boil the root vegetables and store in the fridge.
  • If you choose to make the brie bites; you can completely assemble these the night before and store in the fridge wrapped tightly with saran wrap so that the filo dough doesnt dry out.

1 to 2 hours before guests arrive:
  • Reduce the braising liquid and season to create a sauce for topping the lamb shanks
  • 1 hr before guests arrive: reheat the lamb in the oven with 1/2 of the sauce, basting periodically (allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes once done)
  • heat the polenta in a large dutch oven or pot about 20 to 30 minutes before you want to plate the dishes.
  • Broil the root vegetables with garlic, rosemary, olive oil, and sea salt on the top rack of the oven
  • Plate the Lamb, polenta, and root vegetables with the reserved sauce.  Serve kale salad on a separate side dish.

{guests enjoying the meal}

This meal turned to be out rich and flavorful, but not overly filling even with the creamy polenta everything was served on top of!  The kale salad was a great side dish to add that crunch of fresh greens and sharp dressing to cut through the morroccan spices of the main entree.  A simple dessert that combined refreshing citrus flavors perfectly topped off a truly satifisfying meal.

All told, I think this was by far one of the best meals we have ever made and the standout favorite dish was actually the Tahini Kale salad!  I hope the ability to make this meal well in advance of your guests arriving inspires you to try this menu for yourself.  We already have plans in motion for the next dinner in the Host Your Own Series and this one is hopefully going to include a little video footage!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

{host your own series: importance of a toast}

For the newest post in our Host Your Own series, Kevin is talking about the importance of a toast during a dinner party or gathering- even if you aren't celebrating any particular special event.  Head over and check out his advice, then head back here tomorrow for the full post on our most recent dinner party including the full menu!

Monday, February 20, 2012

{simple late winter floral arrangement}

The past weekend, I headed out to the flower mart to pick up supplies to create a small arrangement to set our table for a dinner party.  My normal go-to flower is white hydrangea since they are so large that you only need one bunch of them to really fill a vase and the look is very classic and fresh.  This time, I really wanted to branch out and create something that felt a little more organic and natural.  I ended up with two bunches of ranunculus in peach and white, blue thistle and some seeded stem to add greenery.  

One of my favorite wedding blogs, The Wedding Chicks,  does a weekly "bouquet recipe" feature that breaks down exactly which flowers make up a certain type of bouquet.  Inspired by these posts, I thought it would be fun to share the arrangement I made and even break down the exact flowers I used...

Friday, February 17, 2012

{friday cocktail: mandarin honey sparkler}

I am always on the hunt for new champagne cocktail recipes and while nothing can beat the original, this week's recipe is definitely one of my new favorites.  Always Order Dessert just featured this recipe for gin and honey soaked mandarins for use in cocktails and I figured this would be the perfect cocktail to greet our guests with at an upcoming dinner party we are hosting this weekend.   The original recipe calls for mandarin sections canned in water not light syrup, but since my local store had no less than SIX different canned options in light syrup and not one option in water I figured my chances of finding the correct version elsewhere was going to be slim.  While the resulting cocktail is sweet, it is definitely not overpowering so I would say you are fine to substitute the mandarins in light syrup so long as you give them a good rinse in cold water after draining the syrup. 
The original recipe also suggested trying this with raspberries, which I thought could lend itself perfectly to some sort of muddled cocktail (perhaps this will be next week's recipe). Oh and also just so you know- these soaked mandarins are like candy when eaten alone using a fork to fish them out of the container- just saying.

First whip up a batch of the soaked mandarins at least 24 hours ahead of
 time and then follow this recipe: