…PrettyPixels.17-20…

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There’s Always Time To Build A Fort

Go ahead. Before reading any further list five things you can learn from a seven year old.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Did any of your points involve scurrying around like a blind mouse through a maze, trying to be everything and everyone on every single day? Using my extremely vast vat of knowledge I am going to answer for all of us and say no. But so often I get caught up in the busy-ness of everyday life that I lose any connection to the people around me and often with myself too. I have lists to complete. Tasks to finish. Goodies to bake. Places to be that are so hugely important I can’t see anything else around me because of the blinders I have on.

But ask a seven year old and there is always time to build a fort. Or bake cookies. Or read a story.

The mail can wait. The laundry isn’t going anywhere. And the dishes can hide in the sink. But my niece won’t be little forever. She won’t always want to come over and bake cookies that look like mice. And she won’t always throw around kisses and hugs with wild abandon.

I can learn a lot from her.

 

Spiced Cardamom Cookies

  • 3/4 C butter (1 1/2 sticks), at room temperature
  • 1/2 C icing sugar
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • sliced almonds
  • brown mini M&M’s
  • dried chow mein noodles
  • Preheat your oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Whisk together the flour, cardamom, cinnamon and all spice.
  • Beat the butter until it’s light and fluffy, about three minutes. Add both both sugars and beat until well combined.
  • Add the egg and beat well, at least one minute.
  • Beat in the vanilla until combined.
  • Add in the flour mixture and beat until combined.
  • Grab about 1 to 2 Tbsp of dough and roll into a small oval. Gently press one end to form a more pointed end. This will be the face of the mouse. For the eyes, press in two brown colored M&M’s (Or whatever color your seven year old might desire….it surely won’t be boring brown.) Insert two sliced almonds for the ears. And for the tails use the chow mein noodles.
  • Bake about 12 – 15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned.

Note:

  • Your seven year old sous-baker might come up with some fantastic uses for the chow mein noodles. Like a mouse-tache.

 

Valentine’s Day

Be You.

Be Loved.

{Especially if it is love by chocolate cake}

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake from BAKED

For the Chocolate Cake Layers:

  • 3/4 C  dark cocoa powder
  • 1 1/4 C hot water
  • 2/3 C sour cream
  • 2 2/3 C all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 C vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 1 C firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
  • Butter three 8″ round cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment and butter the parchment. Dust with flour.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the cocoa, hot water and sour cream. Mix well and set aside to cool.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  • Beat the butter and shortening about five minutes on medium speed until they are combined and ribbon-like.
  • Add the sugars and beat another five minutes until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time beating well after each addition. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Finally, add the vanilla and mix for 30 seconds.
  • Next add the flour mixture alternating with the cocoa mixture starting and ending with the flour mixture.
  • Divide the batter between the three cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for about 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.
  • Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes then invert the pans, remove the cake and cool completely. Remove the parchment once cooled.

For the Salted Caramel:

  • 1/2 C heavy cream (35% whipping cream)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/4 C water
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/4 C sour cream
  • In a small sauce pan combine the heavy cream and the salt. Very slowly bring to a simmer until the salt is dissolved then remove from the heat.
  • In a medium sauce pan combine the water, sugar and corn syrup. Stir together carefully making sure not to splash up the sides of your pan (if you do it will seriously burn on). Cook over high heat until your candy thermometer reads 350F or until the mixture is a dark amber color. This should take about 6-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool 1 minute.
  • Add the cream mixture to the sugar mixture. Whisk in the sour cream. Let the caramel come to room temperature then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.

For the Whipped Caramel Ganache Frosting:

  • 1 Lb. dark chocolate chopped (at least 60-70% cacao)
  • 1 1/2 C heavy cream
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/4 C water
  • 2 Tbsp light corn syrup
  • 2 C unsalted butter cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
  • In a small sauce pan slowly bring the cream to a simmer.
  • Meanwhile, keeping a close eye on your cream so it doesn’t burn, in a medium saucepan combine the water, sugar and corn syrup. Once again, stir to combine carefully making sure not to splash any up the sides of your pretty, shiny pan (which will no longer be shiny if you splash up the sides). Cook over high heat until your candy thermometer reads 350F. It should take about 6-8 minutes. Remove the caramel from the heat and let it cool one minute.
  • Add the cream to the caramel and stir it until it’s well combined, about two minutes. Then pour the caramel over the chopped chocolate (a little taste test might be warranted at this point). Let the mixture sit for a minute or two then starting at the center of the bowl, working your way out to the edges slowly stir the mixture together until the chocolate is fully melted. (Again, you better taste it just to make sure.) Let the mixture cool for a while then transfer it to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with your paddle attachment.
  • Mix on low speed until the bowl is cool to touch (this could take a while). Once cool, increase the speed to medium-high and gradually add the butter. Once it’s all added beat on high speed until fluffy.

To Assemble the Cake:

  • 2 tsp fleur de sel (sea salt) plus more for garnish if you want
  • Place one cake layer on your prettiest serving platter. Spread 1/4 C of the caramel over the top of the cake layer. Let it soak in then spread 3/4C of the ganache frosting over the caramel. Sprinkle 1 tsp of your sea salt over the frosting. Repeat using the second cake layer. For the third layer spread with caramel then crumb coat the cake and put the cake in the fridge to cool for 15 minutes. This will firm up your crumb layer of frosting making it easier to have a smooth finish on your finished product. After 15 minutes, remove from the fridge and final coat with the ganache frosting. Garnish with chocolate swirls or fleur de sel.
  • You can keep this cake at room temperature for up to three days. I like it a little chilled so I kept mine in the fridge. The ganache has more of a fudge-like consistency if it’s a little cool. Personal preference.

Notes:

  • This cake is a lot of work. It’s worth it. Trust me.
  • There will be no nutritional information for this cake. Eat it. Savor it. LOVE  it.  Then head over the treadmill and run like crazy.

The Attraction of Opposites

You like dark, rich chocolate. He would rather have vanilla.

You were first in line for the iphone (and perhaps eagerly awaiting the white on white version). He is glued to his Blackberry.

You like sappy, romantic comedies with happy endings. He prefers shoot em’ up action.

You love the city, all it’s shiny lights, and endless parade of 5″ heels. He wants a beach with a pounding surf break and an endless parade of bikinis (although, for your man, you’ll happily strut your goods in your new Mikoh bikini especially if it means escaping the cold).

You have a GPS nav system. He doesn’t even ask for directions (how he actually found South Beach from Naples is still a mystery).

You guys are living proof that opposites do attract. After all, there can be no black if there is no white. No left if there is no right. And no positive without a negative. One can not exist without the other.

Kinda like Extra Dark Chocolate Mocha Cupcakes. And Double Dose Vanilla Cupcakes.

Double Dose Vanilla Cupcakes

from Simply Recipes

  • 1 1/2 C plus 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 C butter at room temperature
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 egg plus 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1/4 C sour cream
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line your cupcake tin with papers.
  • Cut open and scrape out the seeds of the vanilla bean. Place the seeds, empty bean and 1/2 C milk into a small saucepan. Heat slowly to just under a few simmer. Stir constantly for about three minutes. Be very careful not to scald the milk. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the milk to steep in the vanilla as it cools. Once the milk is cool remember to remove the vanilla bean.
  • Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • In another bowl whisk together the vanilla steeped milk, vanilla extract and sour cream.
  • In yet another bowl (hope you have a dishwasher!), beat the butter for about three minutes on medium speed until it is light and fluffy and the color is a pale yellow. Add the sugar and beat at least another three minutes. You will notice the color and consistency change once you’ve beat long enough. Then add the whole egg and beat for about a minute. Add the egg whites one at a time and beat for a minute after each.
  • Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter mixture in alternating additions (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry). Mix until just combined. Please don’t over beat.
  • Divide the batter into your cupcake tine and bake for 17-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Frosting:

  • One 8 oz. package of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1  1/4 C whipping cream (35%)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • dash of salt
  • white chocolate curls for garnish
  • Beat the whip cream until VERY stiff (it need to be stiff enough to serve as icing). Place in fridge to keep cool.
  • Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, salt and vanilla until very smooth, about three minutes. Fold in the whip cream and any gel coloring if using (I used a rose color).
  • Keep cool in the fridge if not using immediately. I often chill the frosting for an hour to let the cream cheese cool and make the frosting thicker.

Note:

  • If you’re wondering why you have to beat the crap out of the butter/sugar mixture but not once the flour is added I once read something like this: the butter/sugar/egg stage is where you incorporate air into your baking to make your goods light and fluffy. If, however, you add too much air into the flour stage you will produce tough, dried out baked goods.

Possibilty

It’s that time of year (ok, it was that time of year. Come and gone. My posting is not in a timely manner.)… That time when you sit down and really take stock of what you’ve done and where you want to go. That time of year when I sit down with my husband and we seriously talk about our hopes, goals and dreams. I mean REALLY talk. Do our goals have the same outcome (I won’t get started on the different paths we’ll take to get to the end result)?Are the dreams we have shared? How can we help each other attain what we hope for?

A conversation full of possibility…

Of hope.

Of love.

Of plans.

Of something to look forward to.

I love that feeling when it seems that there are doors (yes, plural) in front of me just waiting for me to grab a handle and turn it, swing the door open wide and see what’s waiting on the other side. I love that feeling when something I’ve dreamed about for so long is turning from a far of possibility to reality.

That feeling when anything is possible.

Because I need that. Possibility.

When it feels that everyone’s lives are changing around me (marriages, first babies, second babies, new jobs) and futures are being planned around these changes (birthday parties with chocolate & vanilla cupcakes, first days of school, graduation, more marriages and grandkids), I crave something to plan and dream about too.

Even if it is just a possibility.

Extra Dark Chocolate Mocha Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

Cupcakes from Desserts for Breakfast, Frosting from my own delicious creation

Cupcakes:

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 C flour
  • 3 Tbsp BLACK cocoa powder
  • 1/3 C good quality cocoa powder
  • 2 Tbsp espresso powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 C vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 2 heaping Tbsp instant coffee
  • 1/2 C boiling water
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line your cupcake tin with pretty papers.
  • Whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powders, espresso powder, baking powder and baking soda.
  • Combine the instant coffee and boiling water. Stir to combine.
  • In a separate bowl beat the egg. Add in the oil and milk. Mix well.
  • In three batches add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, except the coffee/water mix, until just combined.Then stir in the coffee/water mixture and stir until smooth.
  • Fill the cupcakes liners about 2/3 full. The batter is quite runny and it does rise a lot.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
  • Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

Whipped Frosting:

  • One 8 oz. package of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 C plus 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1  1/4 C whipping cream (35%)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • dash of salt
  • cocoa nibs for garnish
  • Beat the whip cream until VERY stiff (it need to be stiff enough to serve as icing). Place in fridge to keep cool.
  • Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, cocoa, salt and vanilla until very smooth, about three minutes. Fold in the whip cream.
  • Let the frosting sit for at least one hour in the fridge to help dissolve the cocoa powder.

Notes:

  • You can find black cocoa powder and cocoa nibs at Scoop n’ Weigh. If you’re not privileged to live near Scoop n’ Weigh, check on-line or substitute regular cocoa powder for the black cocoa powder. Your cupcakes just might not get as dark.
  • The batter is quite runny but the end result is a super light and fluffy cupcake. The original recipe called to bake only 17-20 minutes but I baked mine almost 27 minutes.
  • I made these (and a recipe of double vanilla cupcakes which is forth coming) for my niece’s second birthday. What could be filled with more possibility than a little girl turning two?

Mid Winter Malaise

It’s definitely a mid-winter malaise.

NOT a mid-life one (I can’t quite bring myself to use the term crisis. Sounds so… old.) because I am no where near the mid point in my life. Yet I am prone to fits of boredom, restlessness and discontent. I feel as though I am floundering; a fish out of water flapping it’s tail to no avail. Maybe what I’m feeling is more than just an episode of ennui – would I be allowed to call it an extended period of grieving?

A few days ago while making an espresso, I turned on a reality TV program to see a stunning, dark haired, pregnant woman dancing with her husband to the song Fly Me To The Moon. Naturally, the moon was bright and twinkle lights where shining. She was wearing a long flowing white dress and her husband’s hands were intertwined with hers as they rested on her beautiful belly. And for whatever reason, this scene really resonated with me: I will never feel my husbands hands on me in that manner. I don’t know how long I sat there and dawdled while everything and everyone flowed on around me. More than long enough for my espresso to cool.

I am trying to pick up the pieces of me and move forward. It’s time consuming. I spend listless and lingering hours running and stretching, practicing yoga, surfing the interwebs, editing pictures, and generally not making a large forward progression. But what better way to amble a few hours into oblivion than with a wicked dark espresso and double chocolate biscotti.

Double Chocolate & Almond Biscotti

source: David Lebovitz

  • 2 C flour
  • 3/4 C cocoa powder (make sure it’s good quality)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 C almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 C dark chocolate chips
  • Preheat the oven to 350.
  • Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
  • In a large bowl beat together the three eggs, sugar, vanilla, and almond extracts. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients. The dough will be very stiff. Stir in the nuts and chocolate chips until the dough holds together.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough in half and press into two logs. Space them apart evenly on the baking sheet.
  • Gently flatten the top of both logs. If you want to add a glaze (I did) brush the top of the logs with a beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
  • Bake about 25 minutes or until the dough feels firm to touch.
  • Remove the cookie dough from the oven and cool 15 minutes. Place the logs on a cutting board and using a serrated knife, cut the logs diagonally into about 1/2″ slices. Lay the cookies cut side down and bake for another 20 -30 minutes until the cookies are mostly firm.
  • Cool the cookies completely on a cooling rack before storing them in an airtight container. They will keep for about two weeks.

Notes:

  • I found it hard to cut the logs 1/2″ slices, mine were more like 1″ slices which turned out just fine. I baked them about 25 minutes. If you want your biscotti more moist than crispy just bake a little less the second time.
  • Feel free to experiment with fillings: dried cherries or cranberries, pecans or maybe pistachios, milk chocolate chips, etc.
  • There is no butter or fat in this recipe (big surprise). Apparently it makes the biscotti more crispy than recipes with a fat.
  • If you want to, feel free to dip the bottom half of each biscotti into melted chocolate to make them fancy and less “healthy”.
  • The first time I made the recipe I only made half which turned out just fine. Although, they biscotti disappeared rather speedily. The second time I wised up: made the entire batch to facilitate better lingering.

Getting Lost


One of the best part of traveling? Losing yourself in a strange city or culture and discovering something magical.

It can be so difficult to let go of the familiar. The guidebooks.Your GPS and iPhone. The same old restaurant. But cut loose and you never know where the waves might wash you up.

I love how author Chris Stewart penned it: ” If we don’t maintain some spontaneity, a bit of risk and sense of adventure, we risk losing the traveler’s soul.”

The Bedouin have a saying that the soul can travel no faster than the speed of a camel.Travel faster than that and you just might spend the night waiting for your soul to catch up.

What a lovely approach not just to traveling but to life in general. Stop always wanting something better. Stop looking for the next best thing… Enjoy where you are right now. Over the Christmas holiday we took a familiar trip to the sun and tried just that. We discovered the most amazing fish tacos that we ate roadside in our salt covered swimsuits. We found a dingy coffee shop that roasted their own beans and made the richest iced latte I’ve ever had. We went to a little roof top bar and learned about the finest tequilas. We became friends with a local and spent a day sailing the Bay of Banderas following a mother humpback whale and her baby. I think we also discovered a little about ourselves, about each other, and about our relationship simply by opening ourselves up to the beauty of the unfamiliar. By allowing ourselves to wander slowly and get lost.

Try it… You never know, you might find what it is that you’re looking for.

*Although my tan has long since faded, I’m not quite ready to give up that vacation feeling so here’s a recipe from our recent jaunt to Puerto Vallarta. If you’re heading that way in the near future give Takos Panchos in the Zona Romantica a try.

Tacos El Pastor

  • 1 1/2 lbs. pork tenderloin cut into 2″ chuncks
  • 2 C pineapple juice
  • 1 C large chunks of fresh pineapple
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, sliced into rings
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 C stock
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • Combine everything but the stock and salt and marinate at least an hour up to four hours. If you’re using fresh pineapple you don’t have to marinate your meat as long. Something to do with the enzymes breaking down the meat faster. If you’re using canned pineapple, marinate your meat overnight.
  • Remove the pork, keeping the marinade. Add the pork to a large skillet and brown all sides. Remove the pork and set aside.
  • Remove the onions from the marinade and place them in the skillet. Cook them until they are translucent. Add back the pork, a good half of the marinade, the stock and the salt.
  • Turn up the heat to get the liquids boiling then turn the heat as low as you can. Cover the skillet and cook for as long as you have time. I cook mine at least two hours. Stir it once in a while. If your pot is getting dry, add in more marinade or stock.
  • About half way through taste the sauce and adjust the seasons as required.
  • This should not be super saucy, but don’t let the skillet get so dry that your meat burns on.

Salsa:

  • 1 1/2 C fresh pineapple, diced
  • 1/2 a red onion, diced
  • 1/2 red pepper, diced
  • 1/4 C cilantro, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 clove garlice, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • Combine everything and mix well. Give it a half hour or so for the flavors to really mix together.

To Serve:

  • Corn tortillas (try making home made ones if you have the time. Definitely worth the effort!)
  • Pork mixture
  • Pineapple salsa
  • Crunchy Slaw (mix together  some finely diced cabbage, radish, carrot and toss with lime juice)
  • Sliced avacado
  • Cilantro
  • Lime wedges
  • And don’t forget the margaritas!

Notes:

  • Adjust the heat level of this meal according to your sensitivity. I leave all the seeds in the jalapenos but for less heat remove them and the white pith. Use more or less chili powder, etc.
  • This recipe requires a bit of time & chopping but upon first bite I was transported back to swaying palms, margaritas & micheladas, and the smell of coconut sunscreen (I might or might not have turned up the heat in my house and donned my bikini.).

Plain Jane

defn: a drab, unattractive, and generally uninteresting girl or woman. Simple and modest; unadorned; basic.

I’m in no mood for fancy. I’m fancied out.

The sky is an ever-present grey leaving a dusting of scattered flurries. It’s the depths of January and it seems that winter might never end. Fancy has come and gone in a Christmas season of parties, family gatherings, trips down south with too many margaritas and an abundance of rich food (which I pretended to negate by enthusiastic jaunts into the ocean battling the waves on a surf board). Now I must face the reality of treadmill running and bundling up in the warmest jacket on earth should I desire to leave my abode.

I’ve traded fancy for Plain Jane. Festive frilly skirts and bikinis for my favorite blanket, Ugg slippers, and according to Abercrombie my perfect butt fleece sweats (but if you ask me, they seriously over-promised on that one). It’s time for comfort and the familiar. Not only in getting back into a familiar routine but in food as well. Thankfully, I have a couple of recipes that suit this mood.  And what could be more comforting than a simple, family favorite, recipe for cookies?

Although the ever-omniscient Wikipedia defines a Plan Jane as being generally uninteresting, I think there can be beauty in the familiar and basic. In the unadorned. The familiar can bring us comfort and warmth like an evening spent curled up on the couch, in my unfancy sweats and ponytail, with my loved one. And that in itself can be beautiful.

Skor Bar Cookies

family recipe

  • 1 C butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 C brown sugar
  • 2/3 C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 1/4 C large rolled oats
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5 Skor bars broken into pieces
  • 1 C slivered almonds

 

  • Whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda and salt.
  • Beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, a couple of minutes. Then beat in the egg until very well combined, about one minute. Beat in both the milk and vanilla until well combined and the mixture is light and creamy.
  • Add the flour mixture to butter mixture and blend well.
  • Stir in the Skor bar bits and almonds.
  • Chill the dough about two hours or overnight (this gives the butter a chance to firm up again and your cookies will spread less. It also gives the eggs and everything a chance to meld together and should give your cookies more “depth”).
  • At this point you can either roll your cookie dough into about 24 balls and freeze or…
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or greased if you prefer that) and bake 8-10 minutes. Cool for a few minutes then remove and cool completely on a cooling rack.

Notes:

  • These cookies are best when not over baked as they will dry out on you.
  • Also, it’s super important to have some kind of de-sticking (new word?) agent on your baking sheets or the Skor bars will glue on and your cookies will be next to  impossible to remove. They’ll still taste good…. they just won’t look pretty.
  • As you can tell from the pictures these cookies don’t spread a lot. If you want a thinner cookies decrease the flour and oats by 1/4 C each.
  • If you make about 24 cookies, each cookie will have approximately 235 calories, 14 g of fat, and 30 g of carbs. These are not New Year’s Resolution friendly but they taste oh-so-good when you’re lounging in front of the TV watching Modern Family, fireplace on in the background (of course you, as well as I, have already exercised like CRAZY earlier in the day… ran countless miles so as to fully enjoy a few grams of fat) .