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.