Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday Dinner: Beer and Meat

Randomly, I have had 3 conversations in the past week about Ireland, cooking with alcohol and beef stew. I think the universe is sending me a sign about what to have for dinner… a little Guinness Beef Stew. Plus, it’s time to cook at home. I’ve been eating out too much lately. ‘Tis the season, I guess.

Guinness is an awesome ingredient to add to your cooking and also a pretty good beer. I had my first pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar in Dublin. While there is a certain cache to that, it’s also entirely pitiful it’s taking me that long in life to veer away from Bud Light. Don’t worry. I am slowly learning to venture out more with my drink selections, and after all who knows if I would have enjoyed it as much if I had a pint stateside. Guinness always tastes better in Ireland. 

* Ingredients*
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 lbs beef stew meat, well trimmed and cut into 2 inch cubes
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 large bay leaves
1 large onion, roughly sliced
1 lb mushrooms, quartered
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1-2 Yukon Gold Potatoes, roughly chopped
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 16 oz Guinness Stout
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups beef broth

1. Heat olive oil in Dutch Oven. Evenly coat the meat with flour, salt and pepper. Add meat and bay leaves to Dutch Oven. Brown meat about 2-3 minutes per side.
2. Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.
3. Pour Guinness over Worcestershire sauce into pot. Add onion, mushrooms, garlic, potatoes and carrot to Dutch Oven, followed by rosemary and thyme.
4. Dissolve tomato paste in beef broth. Add to beef and veggie mixture. 
5. Place Dutch Oven in oven and cook for 5-6 hours.
6. Serve with bread. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Warm and Festive: Two Ways

Today is December 1st. This means two things…

Number One.  It’s getting a little bit chilly outside. This is exciting for me. It means ski season is right around the corner. (For me, corner = Friday. Pretty exciting! )

Number Two. Christmas is right around the corner. Twenty-five more days of festive fun.

Since obviously today I am into enjoying the cold and being merry and I guess the number 2, I am going to share two ideas that will both keep you cozy and celebrate the best Christmas color: green. (Sorry red… you are just way too played out, too close to Coug crimson in Apple Cup week, and green is my second favorite color anytime of the year.)

Project One: A Green Scarf
A super easy project with just a few basic stitches! Plus scarves make the perfect gifts – something fashionable and something homemade.

For those of you new to knitting, try “Learn to Knit” on Lots of good pictures. I have used it as a reference many times when getting started.

* Pattern*
With size 15 needles, CO 12.
Even Rows: K1, K2 tog, YO,  K2 tog, YO, K2 tog, YO,  K2 tog, YO,  K2 tog, YO,  K1. 
Odd Rows: K1, P10, K1.
Repeat pattern for approximately 24-36 inches.
BO 12.

* Abbreviations *
CO: Cast On
K: Knit
P: Purl
YO: Yarn Over
K2 tog: Knit 2 together
BO: Bind off

Project Two: Spicy Green Chili with White Beans and Turkey 

* Ingredients *
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound spicy turkey sausage, casings removed
3 cups chopped onions
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 pounds turkey cutlets, cubed
2 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 cup drained canned diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can, white beans, rinsed and drained, mashed
2 14.5 oz can, white beans, rinsed and drained
1 can green enchilada sauce 
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chili flakes 

* Instructions *
1.  Heat oil in large stock pot. Brown sausage, breaking with wooden spoon. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 5 min.
2. Season turkey cutlets with salt and pepper. Add to pot. Sauté for 5-10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. 
3. Simmer on medium-low for 45 minutes.
4. Serve with shredded Monterrey Jack cheese and chopped cilantro. If it’s a little spicy for ya, add a dollop of sour cream. If this is too much food for you, do what I did  - freeze it. Frozen soups can easily be de-thawed  for a yummy homemade lunch.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hey… it’s still November...

My mom asked at Thanksgiving dinner if everything was “ok.” When I said, “Great, why?” she replied, “Well, there haven’t been a lot of blog posts lately.”

Blogging has fallen off a tad. I am going to blame the snow. Actually the snow had nothing to do with the lack of posts, but everyone else is using it as an excuse for everything so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon.

Anywhoo… while it is still November and before everyone is fully in the Christmas rush or for those of you who just want to extend America’s toast to gluttony, I thought I’d share a recipe for Cranberry Pumpkin Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting.

These cupcakes were adapted from a cookie recipe so they can be a little dense. If you are making them for folks with small appetites, a mini version may be a better choice.

* Ingredients *
For the Cupcakes…
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup solid pack pumpkin
2 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh cranberries, halved
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Zest from 1 large orange

For the Frosting…
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
3 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon orange extract
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate

* Instructions * 
For the Cupcakes…
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin tins.
2. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add egg, vanilla and butter.
3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Slowly add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture.
4. Stir in cranberries and orange zest.
5. Spoon batter into muffin tin. Fill each cup 3/4 full.
6. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool in pan for 10 min, then move to wire racks until completely cool.

For the Frosting…
1. With an electric mixer with a wire attachment, cream cream cheese and butter. Add remaining ingredients. Beat slowly until smooth.  
2. With serrated knife, split cakes. Add frosting to middle and sandwich to halves together. Top with additional frosting.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Birthday Cake àlà Beer?

The genesis of this cake starts with a boy. Very sweetly, he has been talking up my cake baking skills to his friends and offered that I make a birthday cake for his friend visiting Seattle this weekend. (It’s pretty nice to be talked up. I like to brag about the boy’s much-improved towel hanging ability, but that is another story. Seriously, he is kind of amazing dishwasher among other things.)

I don’t claim to have professional baking skills. I classify myself as a more of an amateur experimenter who just kind of loves to bake. My mom advised this might not be the best time to try something new so of course I wanted to… sorry, Mom.  I  scoured the web for comments on what others said made good cakes for someone from out of town, that you have never met, that apparently is the nicest person in the world, that really deservers something special for their birthday. No pressure… Whew. Thank God for Al Gore inventing the Internet.

I read a great article about a stout chocolate cake from the Barrington Brewery in Massachusetts. I used this recipe as a basis for the cake, then added my “Seattle touch” with a filling based on Starbucks Italian Roast.

* Ingredients *
For the cake...
2 cups butter
2 cups stout beer
1 1/2 cups Dutch process cocoa powder
4 cups sugar
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/3 cup sour cream
4 eggs

For the filling...
2 ounces unsweetened bakers chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
6 tablespoons whole milk
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 packet Starbucks VIA instant espresso powder

For the frosting...
2 cups heavy whipping cream
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla 
Dark chocolate shavings for a topping.

* Instructions *
For the cake...
1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 10 inch cake pans.
2.  Bring butter and stout beer to a simmer in a large saucepan. Whisk in cocoa and stir until well-combined.
3.  Sift sugar, flour, salt and baking soda.
4.  In an electric mixer, beat sour cream and eggs together. Pour in cocoa mixture. Slowly mix in flour mixture.
5.  Divide batter between 3 pans evenly. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool in pans for 10 minutes and then turn out on wire racks until completely cool.

For the filling…
1.  Combine butter, chocolate and milk in small saucepan. Heat over low heat until butter and chocolate are melted, stirring constantly.
2.  In large bowl, beat powdered sugar, espresso and chocolate mixture with an electric mixer until smooth.
3.  Spread evenly between layers of cake. Refrigerate overnight. (Thanks to my sister for the tip!)

For the frosting…
1. Chill metal bowl and whisk attachments for an electric mixer in the freezer for 30 minutes.
2. Remove bowl from freezer. Combine all ingredients. Beat with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.
3. Frost cake and top with chocolate shavings.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happiness is a Closet Room

I don’t care how old you are. Everyone needs a “club house,” a secret place to escape and be surrounded by the things in life that make you happy or maybe plot your secret takeover of the world.

While some could argue my entire house is that special place for me, I’ve put special energy into perfecting one room – the closet room. 

Unfortunately, my Barbie Dream home doesn’t look a whole lot like the one I saw at Costco this weekend. Along with missing the elevator and the roof top hot tub, it also lacks closet space. As a bit of a clothes fiend, this problem needed a solution and ASAP.

My closet room was formerly a little girl’s bedroom when the house belonged to the previous owners. I have kept the petal pink walls, but added my own personal touches. 

First was a place to display my party dresses. Dresses are my favorite wardrobe piece and as I previously mentioned, there is nothing I like more that getting dressed up in something colorful or sparkly for a dinner out or a party with my girlfriends. I chose hat racks from IKEA to mount on the walls to add more storage space.  This also gave me ample storage space for my hat collection.

My house, built in 1927, also had some outdated built-ins from the 1950s in this bedroom. I decoupaged old maps of Paris along the dresser drawers using a sponge brush, Modge Podge and a willingness to get my fingers all gluey. The dressers were finished off with Victorian style handles.  Color was incorporated into the room with a little paint. Pulling from the green on the Parisan maps, I added the green accent in the interior of my shoes shelves and to the closet door.

Furniture for the room was a combination of skimping and splurging. The bargain pieces in the room included the vanity and nightstand.  I switched out the handles to the same ones I used on the built-in dressers for a consistent look and feel. The daybed was my splurge… but makes me feel cozy and safe. I can see many rainy Seattle afternoons on it cuddled with the schnauzers and a good book. (Sidebar: Reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro right now. Highly, highly recommend.)

Mirrors and a jewelry rack based on an old dress form finished the space. OK, so maybe some of this sounds a little more appealing to me than you, but that is what personal space is for – to personalize. Whether it’s a place to tune your skis, an art studio, a den to show off your memorabilia or Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, find a place to make your own.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nothing Says LA like Leather

This week was off to LA for a little work and a little adventure.

Since this is another week of travel, i.e., not crafting, home decorating or baking, I thought I'd share some of my City of Angels fave activities.

Well, at least these are the must-dos for the 2 day mid-week business trip. If we are going all time favorite LA activities, I'd suggest hitting up Dodger Stadium, biking along the Santa Monica beach and of course, cheering on your team at the Rose Bowl New Years Day. 

The list of agenda items below is more a schedule for wanna-be celebrities or those of us who just want to pretend we are a Real Housewife of Beverly Hills. (OK, just joking on the last part. The only RHW I'd ever wanna be is Bethanny Frankel... maybe Sonya Morgan pre-DUI... Crap, I'm off topic.)       

Agenda Item 1 - Take a bubble bath     
Long flight, post a weekend of Halloween parties and nothing felt better than a soothing soak. The Grafton on Sunset even made it fun by providing a toy frog to keep me company. I named her Francie. Not only was this luxurious, but it took me back to when I was in grade school and would load up the tub with My Little Pony Seahorses and other such toys. Life is no fun if you still can't play like you are a little kid. 

Agenda Item 2 - Enjoy a Drive Up Mullholland
Best views of city are up Mullholland Drive and a beautiful setting can give you a moment of stillness to breathe (even in the smog) and enjoy all the great things that are happening in your life. I made the drive more interesting with some tunes on the radio. Great thing about LA you can find everything on the radio - much of it in Spanish. This time it was best of the 80s - Sheila E "Glamorous Life" and "Alone" by Heart. Perfect songs for my mood. 

Agenda Item 3 - Pretend I'm Important by Going to work at a Movie Studio
My meetings for the last two days were at the Disney Studio Lot. It just makes you feel a little big time driving onto the lot, even if it's in a Chevy Impala. Big excitement at the studio was watching a filming of "Brothers and Sisters." I may or may not have been yelled at by a PA for walking in the background. Still so worth it.  Dave Annable… babe, but kinda short.

Agenda Item 4 - Loehmann's
I used to think the Loehmann's in midtown Manhattan was THE BEST store that I ever shopped. Designer discount, need I say more? I now stand corrected. Just past the Beverly Center is my new fashion mecca. Bring your credit card or at least the will power to resist a $5000 Gucci Parka on sale for $1600 or the 3 racks of Catherine Malandrino separates. To remind everyone, I am on the "I unexpectedly needed new brakes" budget so my only purchase was a Cynthia Steffe leather dress. C'mon, nothing says LA like a little leather. Really, how could I not fit this into the budget? 

Agenda Item 5 - Get a manicure next to Ving Rhames
I often wonder what to do in the extra hour or two before I have to go to the airport. Today, I stopped in for a mani-pedi at Oasis in Burbank. I couldn't help but notice a large bald black man seated in the chair next to me. The conversation proceeded as follows -

** FADE IN **

A - "Are you Ving Rhames"

LBBM - "Yes."

A - "Wow. I love your movies. No one will believe this."

LBBM - "You wanna take a picture?"

A - "People will have to trust me. I'm not picture perfect right now." (OK... Give me a break. It was 95 out and I had been going for 8 hours.)

LBBM - "Yeah, my hair is messed up too."


** FADE OUT **

Nothing like a little brush with fame to end my LA adventure.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's Good to be a Girl

This blog post comes after a quick trip to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, CT. Not to drop names (but I will anyway) I'm just pretty lucky to have walked across campus with Chris Fowler and discussed the weather with Bob Ley. Ahhh. Nothing like a little brush with fame to start off an epic Halloween weekend. 

I grew up with a fantastic brother who helped make sure that I was well-educated on the finer things in life - a great macrobrew, the 1992 Dodgers starting line up, the patience to watch 3 NFL games in a row, how to bet a trifecta, etc. Couple this with a love a skiing and hatred of chocolate and *chatting* on the phone and well... sometimes I don't feel like the typical girl.

However, after a trip to the heart of the mans sporting mecca - I'm appreciating everything that I like about being a girl. My house (aka My Barbie Dream Home) is taking on a decidedly girly touch that I am absolutely loving. The previous owners had 2 small girls - each with there own cotton candy pink bedroom. Since being a girl requires a fantastic collection of party dresses, purses and shoes, I've turned one of the bedrooms into a closet room.

Much of the room's decor is still in progress, but my latest project involved revamping a vanity chair to fit the color scheme. Nice thing about this project is that since I am on the "my car unexpectedly required new brakes budget," it could be done on the cheap.

The chair was a TJ Maxx find - and I must admit for home decor I am a *Maxxanista." Shopping TJ Maxx, Ross and Marshalls can produce some finds as good as your local vintage store or flea market.

I picked up this small vanity chair for $25. I removed the seat with a handy-dandy Phillips screw driver, then recovered with a $5 pink ultra-suede remnant from the local fabric store using a staple gun and a bit a patience. Since antique brown just doesn't say "girl," I repainted the chair in chrome spray paint that I picked up at the Home Depot.

All and all the entire project was done in 1 day for less than $40. And I think I did Barbie proud. Somehow this looks quite similar to the one they are selling for America's blonde princess at Toys 'R Us these days!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Finding Time for the Small Things

It’s been a busy week - from happy hours to co-planning a meeting for 300 women at Benaroya Hall to volunteering at the Harry Potter Opening Gala tonight to gearing up for trips to the east coast and LA the next 2 weeks.

While it is wonderful to get out and about, I love to keep myself centered by making time for the simple pleasures – a great walk around the park, a late night run in the along Lake Washington, homemade raviolis and parmesan and Wrestlemania VIII with my schnauzers.  (BTW, if you can’t tell I really love lists. Perhaps, maybe someday I will blog about why there are always at least 3 lists going at any one time in my house.)

Also, as you all know, one of my simple joys in life is baking. It’s a stress reliever, a way to channel my creativity. I know I said earlier that I was off baking and focusing on other things but  I decided to make a quick, simple fall cookie. Recipe below –

Oatmeal White Chocolate Chip with Coconut and Pecans

1 cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup rolled oats
2 cups white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup coconut

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets.
2.  Sift together flour, salt, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda.
3.  In an electric mixer, cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Slowly, add in flour mixture. Mix on medium speed for 3-5 minutes.  
4.  Stir in oatmeal, chocolate chips, pecans and coconut.
5.  Spoon drops of dough onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chalkboard Pumpkin

It’s time to start getting serious about my absolute favorite holiday – Halloween. Today is going to be dedicated to costumes and getting the house spookafied.

Here is one if my projects -

Pumpkins can add festiveness to your porch, mantle or table. On my walk yesterday,  I noticed many pumpkins were already out on doorsteps but not carved. Jack O’ Lanterns are fun, but carving pumpkins too early can lead to a rotten, moldy mess way before Halloween.

For those wanting to add a little early October festiveness, try this idea… chalkboard paint and chalk!

Pick out your favorite pumpkin and paint with chalkboard spray paint. I used Rust-Oleum Black, but green might be an interesting choice as well.  Then use chalk to create a scary face or saying.  If you goof or change your mind on the look, simply wipe with a damp cloth and start again.

For my art, I did a traditional version and then a vampire schnauzer for Haasenpfeffer. (He’s a crazy little dog and now just obsessed with the Twilight movies.)

Note: these pumpkins are best to keep dry. Set undercover to avoid a rainy day ruining your masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cupcake Craziness

The challenge: 1 night - 70 cupcakes. My first *catering* gig. Two canine sous chefs. One dishwasher who’d rather be a taste tester.... we worked out a good compromise. Don't worry.

In my day job, I work in the technology division for a major media company. I've got a great team who has been awesome sports about playing lab rats for my desert creations. I've had some winners and losers, but I guess a few more of the former as I was asked to provide some *professional* cupcakes for the strategic services all-hands meeting vs. one of the other famous "cupcake houses" in Seattle. Honored, I accepted the challenge. Well, who in their right mind would ever decline?

As someone who is not a choco-holic, I like to provide a selection that has a variety of tastes.

·    Snickerdoodle (in dedication to my awesome mom who I missed so much over the last 2 ½ weeks… She makes A TO DIE FOR snickerdoodle cookie)
·    Spice Pecan Cake with Orange Icing (something yummy for fall)
·    Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sprinkles  (a look forward to the holidays)
·    Chocolate Peanut Butter *Surprise* with Chocolate Drizzle (the surprise is a peanut butter cup hiding in the cupcake... it’s a little "Family Circle" vs. Martha Stewart, but sometimes the simplest things are the best.)

And after tonight, I think I'm moving on from cupcakes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A little bit of adventure and a little bit of sparkle

Just wrapping up a pretty fun weekend. Friday kicked off with me walking into the Alice in Chains concert sans ticket. I always like a little bit of adventure and the expereince brought back some memories of Lollapalooza 1993 at Portland Meadows. Sadly, this time I was without my 20 eye Docs and didn’t arrive by VW bus. Yep, I’m sure Martha S. can’t claim those fun facts but maybe more folks would like her if she could.

On Saturday, I celebrated Alaina’s birthday. Whether dancing with tortillas, rocking NYE or captaining a vessel, she’s been a wonderful friend and there have been a ton of laughs.

Presents for special people in your life can be challenging. I love to give handmade gifts, something that I have spent time preparing with the person in mind. These gifts can range from jewelry to scarfs and mittens to homemade jam. Even preparing a great dinner or great breakfast can someone know how special they are to you.  

For Laina, I made an amazonite and smoky quartz necklace with sterling silver chain. A few beads and some wire-wrapping completed the project. I’m a little obsessed with the seafoam color of amazonite right now in clothes, curtains and in jewelry. Plus, blue and sparkle always looks good on blondes.   

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Signature Cake?

Thanks to everyone for the kind words on my blog. The feedback has been great. I hear you guys on fashion tips. Not sure I have any so far, except guys don’t peg your jeans if you want to hit on me. C’mon, really?

I’m also getting a lot of pressure to cook with booze, so here we go. A Kir Royale is my all-time favorite drink. I don’t have them too frequently so I have wonderful memories attached to the flavors - from New Years to escargot. I had my first Kir Royale in a small bistro in Le Marais and fell in love. You might say now this is my signature cocktail – something EVERY girl should have.

Most important thing to remember – a Kir Royale is made with Crème de Cassis. It is not made with Chambord. If anyone is in LA, please remind the bartender at Koi of this.

When thinking up this cake recipe, I had three things that I wanted to incorporate – the bubbliness of the champagne, the blackcurrant flavor and zest of lemon used as a garnish on the traditional drink. A chiffon immediately came to mind. From that starting place, I developed the recipe below. Please try it out… I hope you have as many wonderful times enjoying this cake as I have with the drink.  

Kir Royale Cake
Chiffon Infused with Champagne, Black Currant Filling and Lemon and Champange Whipped Frosting

For the cake…
2 ¼ cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
½  teaspoon salt
½  cup vegetable oil
7 large egg yolks
¾ cup chilled champagne  
2 tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla
9 large egg whites
1 teaspoon cream of tartar

For the filling…
½ cup currant jelly
4 tablespoons crème to cassis
1 cup confectioners sugar

For the icing…
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons champagne or sparkling wine at room temperature
Zest of 3 lemons for the topping

* Instructions *
For the cake…
1.   Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2.   Sift together flour, ¾ cup of sugar, baking powder and salt.
3.   Whisk together oil, egg yolks, champagne and lemon zest.
4.   With an electric mixer, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar. Beat until soft peaks form. Add in remaining ¾ cup  sugar.
5.   Grease and flour 2 8-inch cake pans.
6.   Bake for 45 min or until the middle springs back to touch.  

For the filling…
1.   Heat jelly and crème de cassis over low heat until bubbly in small sauce pan.
2.   Remove from heat.
3.   Stir in confectioners’ sugar and stir until smooth.
4.   Spread between layers.

For the icing…
1.   Beat whipping cream in chilled bowl with an electric mixer with 1 tablespoon sugar.  
2.   Fold in champagne.
3.   Frost cake and garnish with lemon zest.  

Friday, October 1, 2010

31 Days O’Halloween

October is my favorite month of the year because it means my favorite holiday… Halloween. Maybe I love it because nothing is better than playing dress up. Maybe I love it because spiders make awesome pets.  Maybe I love it because I am *a little bit* evil.

To kick off the season, I am starting going with ghost cupcakes. It feels a little silly to writing up the instructions, because these babies are just way, way simple. So simple they would make a perfect Halloween party activities for kids… or adults who are like me and act like a kid.

Things you need to get going with this project –

·    Cupcakes… pick your favorite kind and bake them in white liners. I went with milk chocolate cake (Yes, made from scratch Rob) and chocolate chunks because I have recently been informed men love chocolate… which is odd because I was always told women love chocolate and that since I don’t really care for chocolate that I was crazy. C’mon people… I am crazy, but pick a better reason than I don’t like chocolate. OK… back to what we are doing.
·    Frosting that is pipe-able. Martha’s Buttercream  is an excellent option.
·    Chocolate chips, raisins or black frosting for the eyes.

*Instructions *
1.   Fit your pastry bag with a starburst tip. Load up your pastry bag with frosting.
2.   Create an arc over the top of the cupcake.
3.   Extend the arc down for long loops off the side of the cupcake. I think it looks best when there is a little bit of space between the loops, but up to you.
4.   Place 2 chocolate chips for eyes.
5.   Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

25 min, $25, Dinner for 2 – Oktoberfest

I love a great dinner -- eating out or entertaining at home. Frankly, the second worst part of being single is eating alone. Eating out every night can add up and my challenge in hosting friends for dinner is time. After working a 9 or 10 hour day, the last thing I feel like sometimes is spending hours preparing meal.

For folks short on time, but BIG on socializing, here are some of my ideas for hosting tasty, fun dinners without spending a lot of time or money. Tonight’s challenge… cooking dinner for 2 in 25 minutes for under $25.

I spent the weekend at an Oktoberfest festival and wanted to continue to the party. Themed cooking can be festive and allow you to express your creativity without a lot of time.

·        Green Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
·        Bratwurst and Onions
·        “Pretzel” Breadsticks
·        Assorted German Beers

The short cuts… buy bagged field greens for the salad. Pre-cook the brats by steaming before throwing them on the grill with the onions. Pick up Pillsbury Breadstick dough, fold into a pretzel shape, and bake. Need tips on the salad dressing? Mix olive oil, white vinegar, honey, lemon juice and stone ground mustard to create your own vinaigrette. The dressing also makes a great dipping option for your pretzels.

If you have extra time, decorate your table in blue and white linens and add fresh flowers àlà Bavaria such as geraniums or lobelia. And the music  - let’s just say it’s hard to go wrong with polka! Enjoy!

P.S. Mom and Dad, en route to Garmisch, hope you are enjoying food just as good!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Decorating with Books

Cicero said, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.”  

Books are a wonderful way to add character and depth to shelves, bookcases, tables. I recently moved into my “Barbie Dream House” (more on that later…) and found myself with fantastic white built-in in my office space.

Challenge? How to display books. The books I had on hand were mismatched, didn’t fit my color scheme and frankly, I’m not sure if “The Age of Turbulence” by Alan Greenspan or “In Life, First You Kick Ass: Reflections on the 1985 Bears and Wisdom from Da Coach” by Mike Ditka are really “display worthy.” Well, let’s all agree those titles don’t fit the “Barbie Dream House” mystic. 

Solution: book covers. The covers can be as simple of as brown craft paper or as fancy as designer wallpaper. A consistency in color theme is the key. I chose a variety of handcrafted green papers and Cavallini wrapping paper from the Paper Source. 

To make the cover… first take yourself back to jr. high and covering your 7th grade science book in a paper grocery bag. Now that you are mentally set, select the book you are ready to cover.

·        Lay the book flat on in the center of the paper. Gently fold the paper around the book. Make sure you have at least a 2 inches border on the top and bottom of the spine. Allow the paper to extend 3-4 inches past the front and back cover of the book. Rule of thumb is to select a paper that is 3 times as long as the book you are trying to cover.
·        Place the book in the center of the paper.
·        Wrap the paper up until is touches the bottom of the book and mark. Fold edge, making a sharp crease. Repeat with top edge.
·        Fold the left edge about 3 inches in. Make a crease.
·        Slip the front cover of the book into the pocket created.
·        Fold the remaining paper around the back cover of the book and make a crease. Insert the back cover of the book into the pocket.
·        Admire your work!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Favorite Breakfast… As a Cake.

Alright, I’ve been on a little of a baking kick… per request of course. ;)

Tonight, I am headed to Drew and Emily’s and asked to bring dessert. I am often inspired by other meals and how I can turn the flavors into a dessert. (I did some peanut butter and banana cupcakes once… inspired by fourth grade lunch. Awesome.)

My creation of the night is play on my favorite breakfast – the specialty waffle. My favorite waffles ever in Seattle were from a restaurant now closed – Mini’s. It featured a decadent sweet syrup, batter spiced with nutmeg and a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar.  From these memories, I created Cinnamon Nutmeg Cake with Banana Topping.

I eliminated the whip cream found on most waffles. I leave it up to you whether you incorporate that back into your own recipe.

P.S. No comments about again going with a cake mix. I’m a working girl. After 30+ hours of meetings per week, some shortcuts are certainly allowed.

* Ingredients *
For the cake…
1 box white cake mix
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons nutmeg

For the topping… 
1 tablespoons cinnamon
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoons butter

For the bananas and syrup…
3 large bananas, cut into ½ inch slices
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar

Other materials needed…
1 – 9 inch springform pan
Pastry Brush

* Instructions *
1.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease pan.
2.   Beat together cake mix, eggs and sour cream using a paddle attachment on an electric stand mixer on medium-low speed until well combined. Add vanilla and nutmeg.
3.   Pour batter into pan and bake for 50 minutes until tester comes out clean.
4.   Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Turnover on plate and cool for another 15-20 minutes.  
5.   Mix together granulated sugar and cinnamon.
6.   Melt butter in small frying pan.  
7.   Using a pastry brush, brush melted butter over cake. Moving a section at a time, sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture over cake.
8.   Reserve remaining butter. Add the additional 4 tablespoons of butter and brown sugar to saucepan. Melt until bubbly, stirring constantly.
9.   Add banana slices to pan. Cook 2 minutes per side until nicely browned. Transfer to plate and cool for 5 minutes. Top cake.
10. Drizzle remaining sugar and butter mixture over cake.  

Monday, September 20, 2010

Martha meets Vogue? I wish…

A couple of weeks ago my girlfriend told me, “You are Martha Stewart meets Vogue.”  Best compliment I have ever received… and frankly way, way exaggerated.

I love to bake, craft, decorate and throw (and attend!) fabulous parties. To keep me out of trouble, I thought I would start a blog to share some of my tips, tricks and creativity.

Ideas are meant to be shared, expanded upon on and then made your own. I hope you will take some of my experimentations and make them even better!

To kick this off, let’s get started with Apple Upsidedown Spice Cupcakes with Hot Buttered Rum Glaze.

The recipe for this desert is quick and simple… which makes it the best type of desert. Looks fancy but can be whipped out after work or a few hours before your event.

Also perfect – minimal ingredients. The idea for the glaze was actually developed after I realized that I had no milk and was too lazy to walk a block and a half to Bert’s. Funny. I have rum in my house but no milk.

* Ingredients *
For the cake…
1 box spice cake mix
2 eggs
½ cup oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup brown sugars
2 apples, core and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the glaze…
½ cup butter (1 stick)
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons rum  (or more to taste!)
1 cup confectioners sugar

Other materials needed…
Parchment Paper
Muffin Tin
Cookie Sheet
Small Sauce Pan

* Instructions *
1.   Trace and cut out 16 parchment paper circles approximately 2 inches in diameter. Grease and flour muffin tins and the place the parchment circles in the base of the muffin tin.
2.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3.   Combine cake mix, eggs, oil and vanilla in electric mixer. Beat on medium speed until ingredients are well combined. Set aside.
Note: Cake batter will be thick.  
4.   Mix apples, pumpkin pie spice and lemon juice.
5.   Crumble brown sugar in muffin tins, on top of the parchment. Layer 1/16 of apple mixture (approximately 1 tablespoon) on the sugar, followed by 1/16 of the cake batter (approximately 2 tablespoons). Muffin tins should be 3/4 full when all ingredients are added.  
6.   Bake for 18-22 minutes. Top of the cake should spring back to touch.
7.   Cool in muffin tins for 5 minutes. Place cookie sheet on top of muffin tin and flip. Remove parchment circles.
8.   For glaze, heat butter and brown sugar until melted and well combined, stirring constantly. Add rum. Heat for 3-5 more minutes, remove from heat. Stir in confectioners’ sugar. Drizzle over cakes immediately.

Yields: 16 cupcakes