Sunday, June 30, 2013

Where to Start... Square One Sounds Good

I got a card in the mail a few weeks ago that said, "Everything will be okay in the end.  If it's not okay, then it's not the end."

It is decidedly not the end.

I am standing firmly in square one.  Last week I was sliding out of square negative three, so I am gaining ground.  I've got my stilettos on to give me some traction.  I am digging my heels in.  The view around here is definitely not the view that I was anticipating or planning for, but this is my new reality. 


I just... can't even... I wish... Sigh. 

However, I have learned a few things over the past ten weeks.

I learned that I am capable of crying in the absolutely most embarrassing places ever.  Ever.  I don't cry.  Well, that's a lie.  I cry whenever I see that Folgers commercial that comes on at Christmas.  And I cry when I watch Up.  And whenever I'm reading a book and they sneak in a storyline about Alzheimer's Disease.  But beyond that, I swear, I am usually pretty solid.  Now, however, I am pretty certain that there is  a YouTube video that contains security footage of me bursting into tears all over town.  SunTrust Bank.  Kroger.  Starbucks (twice).  My favorite Mexican Restaurant.  IHOP.  The Lawyer's office.  Standing out in front of the Elementary School while trying to volunteer at the Book Fair.  That's the short list.

I should probably move.  It would free up a whole new venue in which I can show off how well my mascara drips down my face. 

More importantly than that, I have learned that I have family that extends way beyond the confines of those people that have to love me because they are, in fact, related to me.  And I truly didn't even realize it until now. 

I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support that has completely surrounded me over the past ten weeks.  I am thankful.  And grateful.  And humbled.  And I don't humble easily, people.  You know this.  You've met me. 

I despise admitting that I need help.  Yet, I needed help.  And I didn't even have to ask.  Help appeared.  It appeared in the most unexpected ways and in my most desperate moments.  There were the most perfect words spoken for the exact moment that I needed to hear them the most.  There were words of encouragement, words to induce courage and words to soothe.  There were hugs.  There were shoulders to cry on.  There were Starbucks Venti Nonfat Chai Lattes that magically appeared.  Nothing is better in a crisis than a well placed latte. Well, that and a well placed, "Estee.  You can do this." 

I will never be able to repay the infinite number of kindnesses that were shown to me.  I will probably bake you guys a bunch of cookies.  Cookies equal love, yes?  Please, please know that, heaven forbid, should your world ever suddenly tilt in a direction that you were not expecting, I will be here.  I will even buy you some waterproof mascara. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cupcake Liner Bouquet of Flowers

Once again, I need to admit to a bit of an obsession. Cupcake liners.  It's even worse than the vintage bottles.  I just keep collecting them and collecting them.  Even *I* can't bake enough cupcakes to keep up with the influx of cupcake liners.  Well, I could try.  Maybe I will try...

However, at this particular moment I am going to show you how to make these darling cupcake liner flowers. I made these as gifts for the monster's teachers for Valentine's Day.  These would be perfect for a birthday or just to brighten up a gloomy it's allllllmost Spring day.  I have made these in a variety of containers.  Flower pots are a great choice.  Last year I bought vintage McCoy flower pots at a yard sale.  You are only limited by your imagination. 

You will need:
1. A container of your choice
2. Styrofoam that fits inside of your container to hold the suckers in place
3. Cupcake liners - 6 per flower  (I get all of mine at The Bakers Confections)
4. Suckers of your choice
5. Green duck tape or masking tape
6. A hole punch
7. Floral Wire
8. Wire cutters to cut the floral wire
9. Scissors

Each flower needs 6 cupcake liners. Two of these liners will need a hole in the direct center.  Fold it in half and use the hole punch to make a hole in the center.  Then unfold them so that they are flat.

Fold the other four liners in half and then punch a hole about a fourth of an inch above the fold line.  These will remain folded in half to make your flower petals. Now add them onto your sucker stick.  First add the four that are folded in half, turning your sucker one quarter turn for each petal.  Then add the final two that have the hole in the center. 

And now you have flowers.  Have fun with these.  Mix patterns.  Use colors that you wouldn't normally put together.  Use cupcake liners that have scalloped edges or use mini cupcake liners inside and then standard size on the outside petals.  They will be gorgeous.  Trust me.

Now... take one strip of green duck tape and lay it flat on the table.  I would suggest 6 - 8 inches.  Then lay a piece of floral wire of the same length on top of that.  Finally, add another piece of duck tape enclosing the wire in the middle.  (Isn't it duct tape?  Why am I thinking that?)  Now you can trim the strip of tape so that it looks like leaves on each end.  Don't worry about being precise.  Just do the best you can.

 Now you need to twist the leaf around the base of the cupcake liners so that they won't slide down.  This holds the whole thing in place.  Plus, the "leaves" look pretty peeking out of your bouquet.

All you have left to do is arrange your flowers.  I needed some height for some of mine, so I used the duck tape to attach a Wilton lollipop stick to the existing sucker stick to give it an extra few inches.  It was exactly what I needed to make my bouquet full on the top.

And there you go!  The perfect gift for someone you care about.  Have fun creating. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Vintage Bottles - Valentine's Day

So, I have this thing. Obsession would be very strong word. But it would be correct. Ahem.
I love collecting random vintage bottles and jars.  I just can't walk away from them.  I mean, come on... they clearly need me to love them.  The ones above just happen to be a small portion of my collection.  A small collection of the clear ones.  Not the blue. Or the green. I told you it was bad.
I hid them for a while. I do that sometimes. But then one gloriously sunny day I decided that they needed to be proudly displayed in front of my living room window.  So, I set them all up with a dozen or so white daisies in the bottles and then stood back and proudly watched the sun bounce off the glass. They made my soul happy. I was outside watering the zinnias that grow in front of that window later when Brad came home from work. 
"What in the world are those?" he patiently inquired.
"Aren't they fun? They look all trendy and happy," I answered.
"Or... like we are in an episode of Sanford & Son," he said.
"I'll potentially take that under advisement. It doesn't look good for you though, so don't hold your breath."
He sighed. The bottles remained. I won.
Fast forward a year and I may or may not have told Brad that the bottles had been donated to Goodwill. Perhaps. So, they are all going incognito for Valentine's Day.  A few heart shaped doilies, some Baker's twine and some hearts made out of corrugated cardstock and they are barely recognizable. Well, maybe that's a bit of a stretch. 

I originally saw this idea on Pinterest.  Where else? She used Mason jars. If I was obsessed with Mason jars, we would have to move into a bigger house. So, see? I've got that going for me.

The pins and hearts were part of my crafty stuff stash.  The Baker's twine came from The Baker's Confection and the doilies I picked up at JoAnn Fabric. They are filled, at the moment with red tulips.  Last week it was carnations. Love love love. I think you need to make some.  Don't you?

But now how to disguise them for Easter...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Valentine's Day Peanut Butter and Jam Cookies

I adore February.  I love that there is a little more sunshine filtering through my windows.  I love that I can buy tulips at the grocery store.  And I love that we focus just a little bit more on how much we love those special people that we have in our lives.  At our house, it's Love Month.  And nothing in the world says, "I love you" to my husband quite like peanut butter cookies. 
I make these cookies often and I have used different fillings for them.  I have used Michigan Tart Cherry, Raspberry, Strawberry, Grape and even milk chocolate.  The monsters prefer strawberry, which is what I used here. 

The ingredients are very straightforward and probably things that you already have on hand. 
For four dozen cookies, you will need:
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour, sifted
- 3 tsp. baking powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 2 cups creamy peanut butter
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 2/3 cups of your favorite jam, seedless works best
1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2.  Sift together your dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.
3.  Cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Be mindful that you are scraping down the sides of the bowl.
4.  Add the peanut butter and then the eggs, one at a time and mix until well incorporated.
5.  Slowly add the dry ingredients.  Slowly.  Unless of course you want flour on the ceiling.  In that case, rock it out.  Send me pictures. 
6.  Do not overmix this dough.  You want soft and fluffy, not hockey puck.
7.  Once everything is happily incorporated, the dough should have almost a playdoh consistency.  It should be very easy to handle.  Roll the dough into balls about 1 to 1-1/2 Tablespoon size.  You don't want them too small because you won't be able to add the heart without the cookie falling apart.  Find the size that you are comfortable with.

**If you would like to freeze this dough, go right ahead.  Once I roll the dough into individual balls, I fill a half sheet pan with them and stick them in the freezer until they are frozen through.  Once completely frozen, add to a Ziploc bag.  Whenever you are ready to bake them, just set however many you need out on the counter for about 20 minutes and you will be ready to proceed to the next step.** 

8.  Now that you have lined up the dough balls on your cookie sheet (lined with parchment paper or a silpat liner, please) then you will need to gently flatten them with the bottom of a glass.  Don't pancake them, just flatten the top so that you give yourself a smooth surface to work with.
9.  Using the end of a wooden spoon, make three indentations so that they form an inverted triangle.  That usually gives me the best guide on how to make my heart. 
10.  Slide these in the oven for 12 minutes at 350 degrees.  You did preheat your oven, yes?

11.  After 12 minutes, you can see that the indentations puffed up a bit.  Take the wooden spoon again and just flatten out the hearts again.
12.  Warm up your jam in the microwave about 20-30 seconds, or until it is smooth and easily stirred.  This will make your life easier as you take a spoon and gently pour the warmed jam into the heart indentations.  Slow and steady.
13.  Once all of the hearts have been filled, slide them back into the oven for an additional seven minutes. 

And there you go.  Perfectly adorable cookies for that special someone on Valentine's Day.  What are you baking this February?


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thankful Version 2012

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  2 weeks of planning the perfect menu.  One week of grocery shopping and trying to find the right tablecloth.  2 days of pie baking.  1 day of cooking.  20 minutes of eating.  Somehow I think my equation is off. Just a little.  Oh, but it was worth it.  I admit that I am a little sad to see November slip by as quickly as it has.

The entire month of November has been full of moments to be thankful for.  We have spent very happy days raking piles of leaves just to jump in.  I can't imagine a better use for leaves.  We spent hours throwing Maddux's favorite Vanderbilt football back and forth across the front yard.  The daylight slipped away as we chased after Paizlee's wild throws.

I freshened up picture frames with fresh coats of paint and bought all new comforters for the beds. 

Since we are going to be spending more hours indoors over the next few months, I have been focusing on making things as cozy and welcoming as possible. 

I bought a twenty-five pound bag of flour and I am happily planning on how to use every cup.  The Christmas cookie list has been made and I am anxious to begin planning exactly what I am going to bake this year.  In the meantime, I made my favorite Caramel Apple Pie for Thanksgiving.  You should absolutely try it.  Just add a bit of cinnamon to your apples and your life will be complete.

As I type, the Christmas tree that we cut down this afternoon is happily twinkling in the living room.  We are moving ahead to Christmas and all the magic that December entails.  I hope that your November has brought you as much joy as ours has.  Now... get those cookie sheets ready.  I will be back with recipes!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

I keep thinking that I will eventually get tired of all the pumpkin.  And yet, I don't.  I just keep adding more and more cans of pumpkin to my cart every time I go to the grocery store.  If I get really brave, I might actually figure out how to use an actual pumpkin, but let's not get crazy. 

Allow me to introduce you to the cupcake to end all cupcakes... The Pumpkin Pie Cupcake with Whipped Cream frosting.  It is one of those recipes that I will return to over and over again.  And I owe all the thanks in the world to Your Cup of Cake, which is quickly becoming my favorite website.  Move over Facebook, I've got cupcakes to bake.  I made a few small adaptations to the recipe, but nothing epic. 

For the cupcakes you will need:

24 Golden Oreos (of which you are only going to use the half with the cream)
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
15 ounces pumpkin puree (this is the small can - not pumpkin pie mix)
2-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the  frosting you will need:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup of sifted confectioners' sugar
Your sifted topping of choice:  cinnamon, nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice 

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. 
2.  Line your cupcake tins with cupcake liners.  This recipe gave me 24 cupcakes. 
3.  Split your Golden Oreos in half.  Add one Golden Oreo half (the cream side, of course!) to each cupcake liner.
4.  In a large bowl, combine the eggs, oil, applesauce and vanilla extract. Mix together until they are all combined, but the trick here is to not over mix the batter.
5.  Add to your wet ingredients the granulated and light brown sugars.  Stir until thoroughly mixed.  Then add your pumpkin and stir until that is mixed in with your wet ingredients as well.
6.  In a separate bowl, sift together all of your dry ingredients:  the all-purpose flour, baking soda, salt and all of your spices.  Use your whisk to make sure the spices are thoroughly incorporated into the flour.
7.  Add your dry ingredients to the bowl with your wet ingredients.  Stir them *only* until they are combined.

8.  Fill your cupcake liners about 3/4 of the way full.  One of the things that I love most about these cupcakes is that they don't puff up huge big.  There is definitely a time and place for huge big fluffy, but these almost have a more muffin consistency in that they are a little more dense.  And delicious.  And wonderful.
9.  Bake for 17-25 minutes.  Insert a toothpick into the center and if it comes out clean, you are good to go.

After you remove them from the oven and they are happily cooling, you can make the frosting.  There are a million recipes out there that would be great for these.  I have made them with cinnamon cream cheese frosting and a simple vanilla buttercream frosting, but I love the whipped cream frosting best for these.

1. Make sure that your ingredients are cold, cold, cold.  I usually pour the whipping cream into the bowl and then stick the bowl into the freezer for 10-15 minutes while I sift my confectioners' sugar.  This will allow for the stiff peaks that are ideal for your frosting. 
2.  Using a whisk attachment or if you have arms like Popeye and want to whisk it yourself, whisk the whipping cream until stiff peaks form.  You want the peaks to stand up on their own. Then carefully add the confectioners' sugar and the vanilla. 
3.  Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, pipe on your frosting.  I switch around with the tips that I use for this, but I love the round tip that I got at Bake It Pretty.  You can't go wrong.
4.  Then sift on your topping of choice.  I sift because when I sprinkle, it gets clumpy.  But you might have better sprinkling skills than I do.  It could happen. 

These cupcakes are just as delicious as they are pretty.  What are you waiting for?  You need to buy some pumpkin!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Butterfinger Cookie Bake-Off!

The only thing that could be better than a cookie loaded with Butterfinger candy bars would be two cookies loaded with Butterfinger candy cars.  I can see you nodding your head in agreement.  

You would think that when I was adding 10 Butterfinger candy bars to the grocery cart on Saturday that Brad would have said something.  I didn't even get a raised eyebrow.  I don't know what this says about me. But I am going to run with it. 

I am just as obsessed with Pinterest as the next girl, but when it comes to adding to my cookie arsenal, I am extra obsessed.  I can't even begin to explain how frustrating it is to make a recipe only to have it fall apart or, even more fun, explode in the oven.  I am going to save you from having to clean your oven.  Well, just from cookies that go all volcano.  The rest of the stuff in your oven, you are in charge of.  I know, I know.  Life isn't fair.

So, let's talk cookie options...

These are Crispy Butterfinger Cookies that I had pinned from two peas & their pod. They feature oatmeal, rice krispies and milk chocolate chips. 

The dough came together very easily and I didn't have to chill it before I rolled it into balls and baked it.  I love that.  I made no changes to their recipe, which almost never happens. 

This recipe made about 2-1/2 dozen cookies which was perfect.  I baked a dozen of them, and froze the rest of the dough for another day.  It's amazingly simple to do.  Just roll the dough into balls, place on a plate in the freezer until they are thoroughly cold.  Then add to a Ziploc freezer bag. 

*Make sure that you write on the outside of the bag with a Sharpie marker what they are, the temperateture at which you will bake them and how long they need to be baked.*

The "I wonder what these are!" game is no fun for anyone.  Not that I would know from experience.  Ahem.

I freeze them before I put them in a bag so that they won't freeze together.  This way, they stay separate in the bag.  When you are ready for cookies, put them in the refrigerator or on the counter until they are thawed and bake as usual.  Don't tell anyone, but I have already started my Christmas cookies.  All frozen and ready for baking! 

If you prefer a chocolate option...

These are Chocolate Fudge Butterfinger Cookies that I had found on Pinterest via Picky Palate

They feature a delicious chocolate dough with chopped Butterfingers and full of chocolate chips.  I admit that I made changes to the recipe.  I'm sorry.  I ran out of cocoa powder and I was desperate.  I used 1/2 cup of cocoa powder and four 1 oz. pieces of unsweetened baking chocolate in place of the 1-1/4 cup of cocoa powder.  By adding this, I reduced the amount of butter by 4 Tablespoons.  I also used dark chocolate chips along with the semi-sweet chips just because I am annoying like that.

I refrigerated the dough for about 30 minutes because it was sticky.  That wouldn't happen if you were a good girl and just used cocoa powder.  If you really want to make your life easier, use a cookie scoop.  Mine had an unfortunate accident that involved a Play-doh war.  There were casualties. Which is why I rolled my dough by hand.  It's a sacrifice I was willing to make. 

Once all the cookies were made, I had three very willing judges to test them for amazingness.  There was also another judge in the living room watching football.  He wasn't so willing to write his favorite down on an index card.  Husbands are so tricky like that.  The monsters all chose the Crispy Butterfinger Cookies (Which they referred to as "Oatmeal" as opposed to chocolate).  I think they are crazy, the Chocolate Fudge Butterfinger Cookies were phenonomenal.  Brad also voted chocolate, in case anyone wants his opinion, which he insists that you do.  Both recipes were amazing and easily passed from "pinned on Pinterest" to actually being used in my kitchen. 

Happy Baking!