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