Monday, March 31, 2008

Foot Flair

Flat footwear is a trend I don't think I'll ever say goodbye to. Ballet flats are comfy, cute and vital if you live in a walking city. Old Navy currently has a colorful collection that is steeply discounted, just $11.70 a pair. With the bold patterns and bright colors of their paisley, floral and geometric designs, these satin shoes are perfect for spicing up jeans and a plain shirt.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Quintessential Cupcake

Today is my husband's birthday. He had only one request... Magnolia cupcakes. I was happy to bake the delicious mini-cakes as they also happen to be one of my favorite sweets. Having moved from New York, we both miss late night trips to the West Village sugar dealer, but luckily our favorite little bakery has published a cookbook. While Magnolia's most popular cupcake combo is vanilla vanilla, our favorite is chocolate vanilla. There's something about that gooey, chocolate buttercream that I just can't get enough of, at least until the sugar coma hits. So if you're in New York, go to Magnolia right now, but if you're not, you may want to invest in their cookbook chock full of deliciousness, including the recipes for vanilla vanilla cupcakes and Magnolia's famous banana pudding.

Magnolia Vanilla Cupcakes

Recipes courtesy of More From Magnolia

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers. In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing. At the bakery we ice the cupcakes with either Vanilla Buttercream or Chocolate Buttercream.

Chocolate Buttercream

1 1/2 (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons milk
9 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the butter until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add the milk carefully and beat until smooth. Add the melted chocolate and beat well, about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat for 3 minutes. Gradually add the sugar and beat on low speed until creamy and of desired consistency.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cookin' & Lookin' Good

Every hostess knows she must dress to impress when entertaining, but cooking can get especially un-cute. I'm often found with wet handprints on my jeans, flour dusted across my black shirt, and my hair messily pulled back, all for the sake of getting a meal on the table. But there's an easy way to cover it all up, or at least, detract from it. Just tie on an apron by Jessie Steele and voila! You'll be the chicest chef in the kitchen. Jessie and her daughter Claire have created a vintage-inspired line of aprons using flattering, feminine shapes and classic fabrics. Available online and at stores across the country, the stylish cover-ups will easily take you from preheating the oven to opening the door as your guests arrive.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Flirty Laundry

There's nothing remotely appealing about hauling loads of laundry to the washing machine and from the dryer, but there are a few products that will add a little cheer to the tedious, time-consuming chore. First off, this lovely, fabric hamper looks like it's worthy of much more than dirty clothes. The ruffled, cotton bag holds two to three loads of clothes, and the design is practically romantic. For the actual washing, try Maggie’s Soap Nuts. That's right, soap nuts. They're a natural detergent produced from the fruit of the Chinese soapberry tree, perfect for sensitive skin and just about any kind of fabric. Once the natural soaps have run their course, they can be used as compost. And when it's time for drying, opt for Dryer Balls instead of dryer sheets. They're designed to reduce drying time and soften fabrics, and they're reusable.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Sweeter Easter

One of the charming, little delights of Easter is the distinct candy that accompanies it. Bunny and chick-themed treats may start appearing in drugstores after Valentine's Day, but if you love candy the way I do, you probably don't mind. Everyone has there favorites. Personally, I'm a fan of bubble gum eggs, pastel M&M's
and Cadbury's mini eggs. They're
tasty, cute and all of them make fine filler for those lovably tacky and kid-friendly chocolate nests, which can be made using chow mein noodles, coconut and even shredded wheat.
I've never had much use for Peeps, except as microwavable entertainment, but some people love them. If you're one of those special individuals, check the official Peeps Web site for some...well, interesting recipe ideas, including Peep fondue. Oh the humanity! Then of course, there's the candy that'll make a bunny cluck, the Cadbury Creme Egg. To learn more about the history of the egg-shaped treat, check out this informative and entertaining "interview." And finally, there's the ever reliable chocolate bunny, available in a range of sizes to suit any appetite.

What's your favorite Easter treat?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pourable Dessert

Chocolat Vitale is best known for their decadent and silky smooth drinking chocolate. The rich liquid made from Venezuelan cocoa beans comes in a variety of flavors, including espresso, raspberry and European classic. It's like heavy duty hot chocolate. If you're looking for something a little less decadent but equally flavorful, Vitale also makes fine teas with subtle and sweet flavors like cocoa cardamom, tiramisu, crème brulee and white chocolate toffee. You can order Vitale products online for an affordable and easy dessert solution.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Spring Ring

There's something very fabulous and fun about a cocktail ring, and this design from J. Crew is no exception. The Cabochon bouquet cocktail ring, which retails for $65, features pastel-colored stones and an 18K gold-plated band. Available in papaya, lime and blue, it's the perfect accessory for a night out on the town or to add a splash of glamour to that simple sundress.

Monday, March 17, 2008

It's Easy Using Green

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I searched the Internet for green items (meaning the color, not eco-friendly... although that list is in the works). Let me tell you, there's a lot of green stuff out there. To simplify things, I limited my selection to items from Crate and Barrel and CB2, Crate and Barrel's hip, younger sibling. They have some great, green items right now, everything from bowls to bedding. The items featured above include a bold, lacquered mirror, a screen printed umbrella, Harney & Sons' green tea infused with orange oil, and green sanding sugar, perfect for decorating vanilla frosted cupcakes. So if you happen to be shopping for green, it might be your lucky day.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Green Cuisine

The St. Patrick's Day celebrating has officially begun. Here's a recipe for a tasty and hearty bread that will keep Irish eyes smiling over the weekend.

Basil Beer Bread
Recipe courtesy of Real Simple

Olive oil for the baking sheet
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4-ounce package active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmesan
1 12-ounce bottle beer, preferably ale
Flour for the work surface
1 cup chopped or torn fresh basil

Heat oven to 400° F. Oil a baking sheet.
In the bowl of a standing mixer on low, or in a large bowl using a spoon, combine the flour, yeast, salt, pepper, and Parmesan. Add the beer and mix just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with the basil and knead gently just until incorporated. Shape the dough into a round loaf and transfer to the prepared sheet. Bake until the loaf is lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Turn the loaf onto a wire rack. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Family Jewels

While browsing Etsy, my go-to for accessories inspiration, I came across the work of Amy Mueller, a jewelry designer based in Seattle. Her line called AdornJewelry features delicate necklaces, earrings and pendants, most of which are inspired by birds. I think her nest necklaces are perfect for spring, Easter and general cheerfulness. Read more about Amy's designs here.

Her sister, Jenny, also happens to design equally adorable jewelry. Her line, also available on Etsy, is titled Orange Peel Enamel and features bold, funky pendants.

Who are your favorite Etsy sellers?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Scout Out Some Cookies

Today marks the 96th anniversary of the first ever Girl Scout troop meeting. As all former Girl Scouts (not me, I didn't make it past Daisy) know, Juliette Gordon Low founded the organization at her home in Savannah, Georgia, in 1912. That's interesting and all, but I'm not here to talk about history or even merit badges, I'm here for something much more important...cookies.
Every year the uniformed girls flood neighborhoods bringing with them boxes of pure goodness. Each type of cookie is unique, and everyone has their favorite. While I was raised in a thin mint-only household (I have no idea why this cruelty was inflicted), my cookie world view changed substantially when a college roommate received a care package containing do-si-dos and samoas, my current favorite. Now there are even more choices, including sugar-free chocolate chip and lemon chalet cremes. Those girls know how to run an operation.
Sale dates vary throughout the country, so if the Girl Scouts have not yet graced your neighborhood with their presence, check their Web site for information. And if you're really desperate, there's always eBay.

Which cookie do you crave? And honestly, how many boxes of them do you eat?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fro Yo

It was a cold and wet Seattle day, but the call of frozen yogurt was strong. I stopped in at Seattle's newest Pinkberry imitator, Mooberry. In case you haven't heard or tasted, frozen yogurt has undergone a recent makeover. It's now healthier and has a tarter flavor because the sugar content is lower. The latest innovation tastes more like actual, non-frozen yogurt rather than the soft serve ice cream taste we've all come to know and love (this means you, Tasti D). Pinkberry started the U.S. craze with its California and New York locations, and now imitators are popping up throughout the country. Flavors are simple and typically include plain, coffee, strawberry and green tea. For me, the toppings are the real draw: lots of fresh fruit, nuts and a fine selection of sugary kids' cereals that lure you in with their nostalgic charm. On my visit, I opted for the coffee flavor with Cocoa Pebbles. The yogurt has a great consistency and just enough sweetness to ensure you finish the whole thing. But I have to admit, if the tart yogurt bubble ever bursts, I'm happy to let a sprinkle-covered chocolate and vanilla swirl catch my fall.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Spring Time

Don't forget to set your clocks one hour forward tonight. Here's some timely inspiration from Urban Outfitters.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Instrumental Design

I don't play any musical instrument exceptionally well or often, but I like to have them around when the mood strikes. In the meantime, they can serve another creative purpose through interior design. My saxophone case is currently acting as a bedside table, and my new guitar just happens to complement the bookcase in the living room.
I think there's something very pleasant and inviting about an instrument out in the open. They essentially serve as functional art, bringing about music-related conversation and impromptu concerts when guests are over. So if that trumpet you played in middle school is just lying under the bed gathering dust, drag it out and stick it on the mantel.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Friendly Fashion

Last night's Project Runway finale left me hankering for more pretty dresses, so today I went browsing online for some looks I can actually wear (and afford). This two tone dress from Built by Wendy is fresh and crisp, and I'm always a sucker for that black and white contrast. I also found a sweet jersey frock at Anthropologie with a bow and bubble skirt that just scream feminine. Finally, this geometric patterned dress from Banana Republic is clean and simple and would ease the transition from day to evening. These dresses might not put you on the runway, but they'll serve you well in reality.

What are your favorite looks for spring?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Brilliant Blogs: Food As Art

Since starting this blog, I have become very interested in food photography. I occasionally try to photograph the dishes I write about but usually come nowhere near the true pros who elevate food to an art form. One such artist is food and still life photographer Jenifer Altman. You can check out her portfolio and blog and even purchase prints from her Etsy shop. Jenifer's work evokes the pure bliss associated with your favorite foods and might even whet your appetite.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Crock Pot Comfort

On a cold, rainy day, there's nothing better than coming home to the smell of a meal that's been cooking for hours. The crock pot is a great gadget, especially during the winter, and is an easy way to prepare many meals, including one of my favorite comfort dishes, beef stroganoff.

Beef Stroganoff

1 1/2 to 2 pounds London broil or round steak, cut into strips
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, chopped
4 to 6 ounces of mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 cups of water
1 cup sour cream

Brown meat in pan and drain off grease. Combine meat and all other ingredients, except sour cream, and pour into crock pot. Cover and cook on low for 7 to 9 hours. Stir sour cream into hot meat mixture about 10 minutes before serving. Serve over cooked egg noodles (my favorite), fettuccine, rice or mashed potatoes.

Chili, beef stew, spaghetti sauce -- what's your favorite crock pot dish?


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