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Another month, another brunch {Musings on Fellowship & Food}

1 May

While searching for inspiration for March’s monthly brunch, I found myself thumbing through a book that was a wedding gift from a dear aunt on the other side of the country.book cover

I am definitely my father’s daughter when it comes to being overly wonderfully sentimental, and reading the inscription from two and a half years ago started me thinking not only about the wonderful memories from our wedding, but even more so the countless, delightful meals we’ve shared with family and friends since then. We are truly blessed to so often share warm fellowship and tasty food around our table.  I couldn’t express my wish for my life with Adam any better than my Aunt Bonnie did!

note

With all of this in mind, I decided to make only dishes from The Culinary Institute of America’s Breakfasts and Brunches this go round. I tried out the recipe for Raspberry Muffins with Pecan Streusel, which seemed to be a hit {and were certainly a hit with me if no one else}! A nice balance of the tartness of the raspberries and the sweetness of the streusel.

recipe

muffins

muffin

I also tried out a couple of quiches that were quite tasty as well! First off was a a Caramelized Onion Quiche.  Side note: I don’t think I’ve ever truly caramelized onions before and let’s just say we were lucky to have any left for the quiche after I performed my requisite quality assurance taste test!

caramelized onion quiche

Next up was a Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomato Quiche. One guest happened to get a bit of bacon and quiche in the same bite and suggested adding bacon the next time I make it. Can’t go round there as far as I’m concerned!

spinach quiche

And what springtime brunch would be complete without a Peeps centerpiece?!?  Happy May Day!

peeps & tulips

Hello, March! {More Brunch + Zucchini Cake}

1 Mar

So far in 2013, I am keeping up the brunch portion of my “doing what you do” resolution pretty well! Adam and I had a few people over for a leisurely Sunday brunch last week and, as usual, it was so wonderful to catch up over my favorite meal of the day! This time it was mostly former co-workers of mine and their significant others, so there was plenty of reminiscing about our good old audit days.

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I made a couple of the standards from my B&B days: pineapple cream cheese French toast and sausage balls {if you click on this recipe link, please note that I chose to pass on the mayonnaise dipping sauce … maybe I’m not a true Southerner at heart, but seriously, Paula?  Mayonnaise dipping sauce for sausage?}.

I tried one new recipe this go round: Martha Stewart’s Zucchini Bundt Cake. I was trying to avoid the overly sweet with this dish, so I skipped the orange glaze and candied zucchini. Otherwise, I followed the recipe as is and found it to be perfectly delicious! A nice balance of savory and sweet, with warm, spicy undertones courtesy of cinnamon, anise seeds, and cardamom. Also worth noting, this cake came out of the pan easily, which is always a plus when making a bundt cake. I enjoyed the leftovers at work and would definitely make this one again!

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The anticipation of spring was definitely on my mind as I put together the centerpiece. I love the bright blues and yellows together and nothing says “spring is coming” like daffodils! The table runner was a lucky {and super cheap!} find on the remnant table at G Street Fabrics that I pressed the night before to look like it had actually been hemmed {which would have involved such complex tasks as changing the thread on my sewing machine!}. I was so excited to find something as on-trend as a bold chevron print on the sale table! I’ve had the teapot for years and loved the idea of re-purposing it as a vase. The tiny teacups were the perfect size for floating tea-lights and added a nice glow to the table {not to mention a few more pops of blue}.

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New Year’s Resolutions {More brunches, please!}

23 Jan

Happy New Year! It’s been awhile! One of my new year’s resolutions is to get back to the things I love doing. Back to the little things that put a smile on my face. That’s not to say I haven’t been smiling enough lately … just more of an acknowledgment that far too often I have let excuses like being tired or burnt out suck me onto the sofa for things like the “What would B.D. do? Marathon” of Law & Order: SVU. Yeah, that’s right … as in B.D. Wong, who played the psychiatrist … seriously, USA will make a marathon out of anything!

photo (4)

I digress. I had this “epiphany” while dancing on a chair on New Year’s Eve. There was a complete stranger next to me who seemed a little too pensive for someone dancing on a chair, so I asked her what was wrong. As it turned out, she was feeling a little overwhelmed by the thought of a new year and all of the lofty resolutions that come with it. And who wouldn’t be? I mean it’s great to take some time to reflect on the things we could be doing a little better and use the opportunity of changing the calendar to make some changes; but it’s like we expect we’ll be a whole new person on January 1 {or January 2 for those you who might have done a little more than dance on a chair to ring in the new year}.

So long story slightly shorter, I turned to this girl and said “2013: The year of just doing what you do.” Whatever that means … haha. Luckily, we’d both had a little champagne and that made perfect sense to her … she even high-fived me! So while you may or may not want to take advice from me at a bar, these words began to resonate with me over the first weeks of January. And I decided that I need to just do what I do. And a few of those things that I do are baking, crafting, hosting brunches, and writing about these things here!

So this past weekend, Adam and I hosted several friends for Sunday brunch. It had been far too long and it felt wonderful! Here are some of my favorites from the day. I hope 2013 is a year full of just doing what you do! Enjoy!

I tried one new recipe, and was happy with the way it turned out. I pretty much followed Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for Lemon Yogurt Anything Cake as it was written and only found that it took closer to 55-60 minutes to cook through in my pan/oven.

photo 1 (8)I also decided to have yogurt parfait bar, which is a a fancy way of saying I put granola, fruit, and yogurt out on the counter for people to serve themselves! It seemed to be pretty well-received and was a fresh, super easy way to supplement the spread without tying up the oven.

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I was also more than a little excited about the decorations that actually made it to the table rather than just being imagined and put off until it was too late to do anything about! I just got some simple, inexpensive flowers at the grocery store and put them together  with things I already had around the house. The centerpiece was a cast iron skillet with candles and flowers on a stack of books. I overestimated the amount of baby’s breath I needed, so I ended up using some bud vases to complete the table-scape. For some reason the white, delicate flowers contrasted with the heavy, black skillet  just seemed to say winter brunch perfectly to me!

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And Zorro pretty much sums up how I felt once the kitchen was clean!

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Healing Pie {Caramel Apple Cherry Pie}

11 Nov

Sometimes you just need to bake a pie – even if you don’t really know how to make one. So was the case with me a couple of weeks ago. After suffering one of the biggest disappointments of my life to date {which probably speaks more to the charmed nature of my life, rather than to the gravity of the situation}, I had been spending more than my fair share of time on the couch. And even though I knew I needed that time to rest {or at least my mom said I did}, I was getting a little antsy by the end of a couple of days!

Thank goodness my new Better Homes and Gardens came somewhere in that time period and I got inspired to make the delicious-looking Caramel Apple Cherry Pie featured on the cover. The act of baking this pie would become symbolic of so many things in my life right now, not the least of which is the promise of the beautiful baby that Adam and I will someday hold in our arms even though this time around ended in miscarriage.

Please note, I did NOT make this beautiful creation :)

So mere hours after having received the magazine in the mail, my sweet husband was picking up the ingredients to make a caramel apple cherry pie. The act of pulling out all of my beloved baking ingredients and dishes felt like therapy.  It reminded me of all the things I love about baking that I had been missing lately, as work and life got in the way. Turning up my favorite music in the kitchen {it was most likely The Weepies on this and most days}. Enjoying time to just be alone with my thoughts while still feeling productive. The anticipation that comes with trying something new. Filling the house with sweet smells and anxiously awaiting the return of my favorite taste-tester.

The makings of a pie crust.

Just by nature of the fact that I was up and in the kitchen, I could feel myself returning to normal. And the simple act of doing these familiar things continued me right along the path to healing.

So that all sounds great, right?  Well, here’s the thing – this pie is a lot of work! And it didn’t exactly turn out like the pictures. I had a lot of trouble with the crust, which kept wanting to sadly sink down into itself {metaphor for my life much?}.

The crust is still looking pretty promising at this point.

When Adam left for a movie, I was desperately trying to salvage the pie crust while stirring what felt like 17 pots and pans on the stove … there was the cranberry/cherry compote, the apple mixture … okay, I guess that’s only two, but with all of the prep bowls, pots, and pans; there was quite a bit of clean-up to be done.

Starting the cranberry/cherry compote.

Yummy pie filling!

When it was all said and done, I had a finished pie. It wasn’t pretty {even Instagram couldn’t hide its flaws!}, but it was tasty. I think I will have a better technique the next time I make a pie crust, which may or may not include buying a ready-made crust at the grocery store! I probably won’t make this particular pie again {yumminess to effort ratio was not quite high enough}, but at the end of the day, I was sharing the fruits of my afternoon with the one I love.

And all of this reminded me that, no matter how much you plan, or how hard you work; life doesn’t always turn out like the picture you have in your head. But you just have to keep going, love people well, and believe in the promise of what’s to come. And some days that promise is that of a much more successful day in the kitchen than this one; and others, it is the promise that one day Adam and I will have the beautiful baby we had already started to picture in our arms.

Yep – sad-looking pie!

Why I Love To Bake {Happy Father’s Day!}

15 Jun

We recently had some unexpected house guests, and I found myself in need of a quick and easy dessert recipe. Normally I would hit the baking blogs at this point, but this time I found myself reaching for an old, trusted friend instead – the chocolate chip cookie recipe from my KitchenAid mixer cookbook. There’s nothing too special about this recipe on the surface. It’s so simple that I should really know it by heart. The cookies are delicious {especially with a glass of milk}, but not that different from any other basic chocolate chip cookie.

What makes these cookies so dear to me are the memories I have of helping my mom bake them using her KitchenAid mixer more years ago than I care to count at the moment. I know what you’re thinking – “This sounds more like a Mother’s Day post – what gives??”  - but just give me a minute, I’ll get there!

Anyway, on this particular occasion a few weeks ago, as I mixed up the familiar ingredients, I had a bit of an epiphany. I had always traced my love of baking back to my days working at a lovely little B&B in Charleston, South Carolina, but I now know that experience only helped to strengthen what was already there. That’s right, the humble beginnings of my love for baking can be found in this very chocolate chip cookie recipe.

In the discovery that my linear, little mind thrived on the precision and following of instructions that baking demands. In the patience of my mother as she let me use more flour than should ever be used as I rolled out each cookie by hand {still my preference to this day, as I never seemed to have mastered the art of dropping rounded teaspoonfuls}. In the wisdom passed down from my grandmother that, even though the recipe calls for a greased baking sheet and I wanted to follow it to a T, “a good cookie greases itself!”  I know, I know. Still sounding very much like a Mother’s Day post, but I would be remiss to leave out my mother’s hand in this!

What made these cookies so very special to me is what happened after they filled the house with the heavenly aroma of freshly-baked cookies – my dad would pour himself a glass of cold milk and dig in … always insisting that they were the best he had ever had and that no one could make them the way I could. Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that my mom could in fact follow this recipe with the same result, but my ten-year-old self believed that I really was creating some kind of culinary masterpiece each time I whipped up a batch.

All of that reminiscing got me thinking about how dads have a unique way of instilling this kind of belief in their little girls. And about how lucky I am to have a dad who has never stopped encouraging me in this way. Whether it be the latest cupcake recipe I’m trying out or a project I’m tackling at work, I know my dad will be one of my biggest cheerleaders and a great source of encouragement.

So thanks, Dad, for making this little girl believe that she can make the world a sweeter place  … one chocolate chip cookie at a time! Happy Father’s Day!

Countdown to Summer! {Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes}

22 May

It definitely feels like summer is on the way this week! The number of meals eaten outside is steadily increasing, summer hours were just announced at work {woo hoo!}, Memorial Day is just around the corner, and our neighbors gathered last weekend for the annual neighborhood block party! One of my favorite flavors of summer has to be fresh strawberries, so I decided on the occasion of the block party, I would try out a new recipe for strawberry cupcakes!

Based on my house number and the rules of the potluck, I was really supposed to be making a side dish {which I did – Beer Baked White Beans}; but, as you know, it’s pretty hard for me to resist an opportunity to do some baking! I went to one of the most reliable sources I know to find a new recipe – Martha Stewart. The recipe I found is for Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes, and I am so happy with how these came out. They are a perfect consistency and so delightfully fresh and summery. Here is the original recipe as I made it.

{Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes}

source: Martha Stewart – makes about 40 mini cupcakes

  • 2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature

Fresh strawberry puree … yum!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside. Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended. With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.
Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes {10-12 minutes for mini cupcakes}. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

 {Sprinkles’ Strawberry Frosting}
source: Martha Stewart – more than enough to frost 40 mini cupcakes
  • 3 tablespoons fresh strawberry puree {left over from cupcake batter}
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners’ sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree; mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.
If you’re using a pastry bag to frost your cupcakes, here’s a tip that may be common sense to everyone else, but that I found very helpful! Place the tip of your bag at the bottom of a tall glass and fold the excess over the sides, like so:
Now you have a stable base to scoop all of that delicious frosting into your bag using a spatula or spoon, like so:
I hope you will give this recipe a try and enjoy these little cupcakes as much as my neighbors and I did! Happy summer!

New Recipe! {Rose Petal Pound Cake}

17 Apr

The inspiration for this recipe came as I was planning our Storybook Baby Shower. I knew that I wanted to bake something sweet and, for some reason, that bottle of rose water in my kitchen was really speaking to me {hadn’t used it since the Pistachio Cupcakes with Rose Water Buttercream from last summer}.  I was even more determined to figure out some way to use the rose water when we settled on the storybook theme, and I started running through cute menu items that would fit with the theme {Ring around the Rosie. anyone?}. After a bit of googling {or is it google-ing?}, I decided that pound cake was the way to go. The recipe I ended up with was an adaptation of The Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Pound Cake. I simply substituted her lemony flavors with rose water and ginger ale.

I really love the consistency of this cake – it has that firm, yet moist consistency that is so delicious in a pound cake. I also really love the subtle rose flavor that comes through, especially when served with fresh whipped cream flavored with a hint of rose water. Just opening the bottle of rose water smells like summer romance!

I will say, this cake has been trickier to get out of the pan than most, and I would definitely recommend making sure your pan is well-greased. I would also really give it some time to cool in the pan before trying to get it out. Nothing is more defeating after all that time in the kitchen than a bundt cake that doesn’t cleanly come out of the pan {and that definitely happened to me on the first go-round with this one}!

Here is the recipe as I adapted it.  Enjoy!

All ready for the oven!

{Rose Petal Pound Cake}

Adapted from The Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Pound Cake ~ Makes one full-sized bundt

  • 3 sticks Butter
  • 3 cups Sugar
  • 5 whole Eggs
  • 1 tablespoon Rose Water
  • 3 cups All-purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Ginger Ale

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream butter. Add sugar, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each addition. Add eggs, 1 at a time, mixing after each addition. Add rose water and mix well. Add flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add soft drink, then mix together until combined. Scrape sides of bowl, then mix briefly.

Pour into a greased Bundt pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, until the cake is no longer jiggly and a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and let cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Gently shake the pan until the edges feel completely loosened from the sides of the pan.  Run a knife between the pan and the cake to free any stubborn spots. Invert on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Serve with rose water whipped cream {about 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped with a splash of rose water and sugar to taste}.

I wish I could make a whole cake of just these crunchy bits on the bottom ... yum!


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