Monday, October 31, 2011

.being halloween.

for me, it has always been halloween. from the first time i got to adorn a costume as a child and transform into someone else to this year where i still find the same joy decades later. since i came into the life of my eye guy, i have won him over to the halloween side. i usually start brainstorming our costumes the day after our previous year's halloween comes to a close.

this past weekend was no exception as we threw our annual halloween soiree and woke up the next morning reliving all the costumes and fun from the night before. while doing so, i of course started on my rant of the possibilities for next year and now already know what i want us to be. is it halloween again yet?!

it is a rarity for me not to wonder when i start to ask myself why i love halloween so much, i come up with a few reasons. first of all, i treasure the chances i get to be creative and halloween most definitely allows for the creative sparks to ignite. but there has to be more to it than that. imagination and escapism both attract me to them. donning that costume, we are free to be a new character, wipe away our every day selves and imagine what it must be like as that entity.

halloween is a delightful ride for me and one that i look forward to trying out again every year. however, there's some substance to the holiday that is worth exploring more than just at the end of october. character transformation.

how about an 'i've got this under control' mask the next time you feel overwhelmed at work? or, 'i will not blow a gasket' mask the next time your loved one grates your patience? maybe even don the 'i will do something a little more daring than i usually do' after a really ordinary string of weeks? the hardest character to play well is the one furthest from how we really feel. yet, sometimes demanding of ourselves to cloak our traditional reactions may lead us to find that we like the feel of the costume better after all.

happy haunting!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

.chunky apple cake.

several friends of mine at work all had birthdays in the same week. to celebrate them, i wanted to bake something scrumptious that embodied the season in which they were born- autumn.

with apples in abundance, i found this delicious apple cake recipe on smitten kitchen and couldn't resist making it for my birthday friends.

after chopping up apples for what felt like days, i tossed them with cinnamon and had the scents of the dish start to fill up my kitchen. delish.

with all the ingredients mixed and ready to be matched together, i layered the batter and apples into my greased bundt pan and placed the unbaked cake into the oven.

what came out on the other side of cooking was a chunky, apple-licious and gooey cake that emanated autumn.

if you're looking for a pleasing fall dessert that is a little different than a traditional pie, try out this apple cake. it is oh so good.

apple bundt cake
adapted from smitten kitchen
6 apples, Mom uses McIntosh apples
1 tablespoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons sugar
2 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bundt pan. Peel, core and chop apples into chunks. Toss with cinnamon and sugar and set aside.
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into the dry ones, then add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down the bowl to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.
Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a tester comes out clean.

**i baked mine for less time. i suggest you begin checking with a toothpick to come out clean at about 50 minutes.**

Friday, October 28, 2011

.belgian waffles

a great weekend breakfast tastes best after a morning of sleeping in. probably much like your own home, that is a rare occasion at ours. however, these hearty belgian waffles are sure to satisfy the well-rested and groggy alike. i used emeril lagasses' recipe with a few tweaks of my own.

the unique and fluffy component of this recipe has to be the cake flour. other waffles i've made in the past have used regular flour, but the introduction of cake flour is what i think adds the belgian to this waffle. i made that up but it sounds good.

one process that makes this waffle stand out is how you treat your eggs. you've got to beat them to death with the sugar util it becomes a pale yellow. i'm not sure about the chemistry of why this is pivotal, but it does work.

add a little more of this and a little more of that from the recipe below and you've got yourself an excellent waffle batter to pour on your hot waffle iron.

now, what you do with the batter from here is where your creativity is in control. i added pecans to my waffles because my husband and i are a little nutty. throw your extras into your batter before it cooks so that it is an actual part of the waffle. i also sifted some confectionery sugar on top for a lacing of added sweetness.

in the spirit of halloween, add some orange m and m's or reese's pieces. get creative with a spider web of syrup on top or some fun halloween sprinkles.

no matter how you do it up, this will be a scrumptious and filling weekend breakfast.

belgian waffles
adapted from emeril lagasse
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups milk
non-stick cooking spray


Preheat the waffle iron according to the manufacturer's instructions. In 1 medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside. In a second bowl use the wooden spoon to beat together the egg yolks and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved and eggs have turned a pale yellow. Add the vanilla extract, melted butter, and milk to the eggs and whisk to combine. Combine the egg-milk mixture with the flour mixture and whisk just until blended. Do not over mix. In third bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the waffle batter. Do not overmix! Coat the waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray and pour enough batter in iron to just cover waffle grid. Close and cook as per manufacturer's instructions until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

.book page flower wreath.

since the days of our wedding have gone by, my craftiness has taken a back burner to my bakiness (yes, that is my new word.) however, i recently had the luxury of a fall break from work and i guaranteed my inner-crafty-girl a chance to strut her stuff.

i saw an image of a wreath that i couldn't get out of my head and have been dying to make ever since. the concept seemed simple enough. and after a little practice at it, the method began taking shape.

to create this paper flowered wreath, you first need paper. for me, books are one of my passions and i wanted to make my flowers out of book pages, representing the beauty in the written word. i found a used book at goodwill and repurposed it. please don't use a book that you or someone you know may want to read. this was not one of those such books.

begin by putting several pages together for more depth to your flower. when i first started, i was using one page at a time and the flowers were lacking in the petals department. start with a pencil at the center of your page and begin spiraling your way to the outside. here are two lessons i learned the hard way. lesson 1: do not make lots of thin spirals because the flower will be shallow when finished. i corrected this after about half a dozen flowers. lesson 2: do not use a red ink pen because you are too lazy to walk two rooms over and pick up a pencil. i did not correct this, sue me.

after you have your spiral drawn, use scissors (duh) to cut it from the outside working your way in. don't let your pages separate as you cut.

starting at the inside of your spiral, begin folding/wrapping/spiraling the paper to form a flower. i liked to roll mine super duper tight and then let go at the end to unfold to the shape i wanted. hot glue the ends to the main flower and voila- bee-u-tee-ful!

after making soooo many paper flowers, throwing some away, catching up on worthless television watching, scolding your dogs for destroying some perfectly good book page flowers and praising yourself not burning a body part with the hot glue gun, you are ready to move on to the wreath.

yes, you can buy a ready-made wreath at a craft store, but they are way more expensive than what i'm about to tell you. go to your local hardware store. you can be like me and wander around for 25 minutes up and down every aisle with a sense of pride looking for this thing that you just know exists OR you can go straight to an employee and ask for help. better yet, keep your independence by heading immediately to the plumbing section and looking all through it for pipe insulation that looks like a pool noodle, but in black. it is around one buck and works just as well as the expensive stuff at the craft store.

you're going to cut about 1/3 of the length of the cylinder off and then duct tape the 2 ends of the remaining 2/3 to create your circular wreath.
with whatever ribbon tickles your fancy, begin hot glueing and weaving it around your homemade wreath.

add the finishing touches of paper flowers with some more hot glue and there you have it folks, a craftastic (yep) project for your home.

Monday, October 24, 2011

.butterscotch chip pecan cookies.

teaching high school entails going to the occasional football game for me. at least once a year, my school's faculty gets together for a little tailgating before a game. we teachers were asked to bring a dessert to share and i wanted to whip up something simple for me and even simpler for hungry hands to grab. hence, cookies. to be exact, butterscotch chip pecan cookies.

here's how i made them. begin by mixing together 3/4 cups of granulated sugar, 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of softened butter in a stand up mixer. pre-heat your oven to a low 325 degrees.

once the butter and sugars are creamed together, add 1 tbsp of vanilla. then, on low speed, mix in one cracked egg at a time. i'm not sure why i felt inclined to tell you to crack the egg. if you're adding an egg with shell and all, we've got some bigger problems.

in a separate medium sized bowl, sift together 3 cups of flour, 3/4 tsp of baking soda and 3/4 tsp of salt.

with your mixer on low speed again, slowly add the dry ingredients to your wet ones and mix well. you should expect the dough to be a little stiff.

remove the bowl from the stand up mixer and add 2 1/2 cups butterscotch chips and 1 cup of chopped pecans. stir. if you're feeling exceptionally lazy like i was, you can mix it all with your mixer.

when i make cookies, i've found that lining the cookie sheets with parchment paper makes the post-oven life so much easier. so, go ahead and line yours with some parchment paper too. if you don't have any, spray your pan really well. drop spoonfuls of rounded cookie dough about 2 inches apart and bake for 13-16 minutes. repeat the process until you're all out of dough and full of cookies. you should end up with between two and three dozen delicious cookies.

the great thing about these is that they're a unique twist to a typical chip and nut cookie. surprise the crowd or even your own household with a butterscotch pecan chip cookie and see the looks of yummm on their faces.

butterscotch chip pecan cookies
yields between 2 and 3 dozen cookies
what you need
3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla
2 eggs
3 cups flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped pecans

here's how
in the bowl of your stand up mixer, combine the sugars and butter until they are creamed together. with the mixer on low speed, add vanilla and eggs, one at a time. increase the speed to around medium and then turn the mixer off. preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

in a separate medium sized bowl, sift together the flour baking soda and salt.

put your mixer back on low and slowly add the dry ingredients in. when all ingredients are combined, remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the butterscotch chips and chopped pecans.

line your cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper and scoop rounded spoonfuls of dough about 2 inches apart on your cookie sheet. bake between 13-16 minutes. you want the cookie to look slightly crispy around the edges and soft in the center. enjoy!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

.fall fashion show 'n tell.

when i decided to start this little bloggity blog of mine, my hpff suggested i make it a combo package. my new love of baking meets my old love of style. while the new hobby was much harder for me than picking out what to wear, i soon discovered that i felt uncomfortable writing about fashion or style.

i just couldn't see myself saying things like "you should totally pair together this with that to achieve this." it felt a little bit egotistical mixed with a little bit contradictory to my vision on fashion. for me, style is what you make it and is a personal thing. don't get me wrong, i follow more trends than i probably should. but, me following the trends is decidedly different than me telling you to follow them. or moreover, me telling you to try out my own style. my cupcakes? that's a whole other thing. my wardrobe? it just feels awkward.

in any case, to take a more active approach to the shoes portion of my shortcake and shoes, i've decided to make more strides to do a show and tell of sorts. so, with autumn all around us, let me show you a few of my favorite things for this season.

the leaves falling from the trees and the breeze in the air around remind me of the not so subtle signs of fall. at this time of year when nature is surely just showing off, i love wearing my natural wooden bracelets to celebrate it. one of them was a gift from a friend of mine who offered it after an older wooden bracelet of mine cracked. i just love them and sort of like jeans- wood goes with everything.

my new fall fave for this season is not only about style, but also about practicality. if you get cold easily, you know that one of the main ingredients to warmness is warm feet. so, socks are a must for fall and why not show off your knee socks above your favorite boots? i just cleaned out my sock and hosiery drawer and made room for some more practical pairs as the temperatures drop. instead of hiding them in my boots or under jeans, i'm showing them off this season with a peak-a-boo style from the tops of my boots.

so there you have first style show and tell. and on that note, stay tuned for more baking. it's much easier for me to talk about!

Friday, October 21, 2011

.cheesy herb ravioli.

want to make an impressive meal for your family or friends or just to enjoy for yourself? try out this easy ravioli recipe.

in a medium sized bowl, mix 1 cup of ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. add some salt and a little pepper.

then, chop up some fresh herbs of your choice or even use dried ones; depending on what you have at your house. for mine, i used fresh basil cut up and shook in some store bought italian herbs i had in my pantry.

as you continue to stir the ingredients together, mix in a cup of mozzarella cheese. see all this cheese playing together? now, that's a party.

while you are at a good pausing point, let's get started on the sauce. this part is a top-secret family recipe. go to the store, buy a jar filled with yumminess, heat it up. start with about 1/2 jar of alfredo sauce in a saucepan over low-medium heat.

then, add 1/3 jar of pre-made pesto sauce. stir the two sauces together to create a tasty pesto alfredo and feel like a world-renowned chef. now, fill an additional medium saucepan with water and let it boil.

while your sauce is heating nicely on a burner, let's start putting these raviolis together. lay out about a dozen wonton wrappers. admire how well behaved they are waiting in nice straight rows waiting for you to fill them up.

take small spoonfuls of your cheesy herb filling and plop them right into the center of each wrapper.

in a small bowl, mix together a few tablespoons of cold water and an egg to create an egg wash. spread the egg wash with a small brush around the edge of each filled ravioli. you will use this as a paste for the top of the ravioli.

gently press each top wrapper over the filled one and press along the edges to secure them in place. you don't want any filling goodness oozing out the sides so ensure you have a tight seal.

if your water is at boiling point, gently drop 2 or 3 raviolis at a time into the water. send them off with a little well wish if you're feeling especially sentimental.

give it around 2 minutes and remove the ravioli with a slotted spoon. it should look like cooked ravioli. if it doesn't look like soft pasta, then it may need a few more seconds. these little babies cook up pretty quickly.

while your second or third batch of ravioli is cooking, place some pine nuts, if you're feeling nutty, into an oven to toast them up. i use my countertop convection oven at 350 degrees for about 7 minutes. this step is optional, but serves to add a new layer of flavor to your dish.

once all your ravioli is cooked, lay them out on a plate and drizzle with the pesto alfredo sauce. sprinkle with your toasted pine nuts if you were so inclined to make them. what you have, my friends, is one delicious dinner. enjoy.

cheesy herb ravioli with alfredo pesto sauce
serves 2 to 3 people
what you need
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup of mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper
italian herbs, basil
garlic salt (optional)
24 wonton wrappers
jar alfredo sauce
jar pesto
one egg
2-3 tablespoons cold water

how to do it
mix together ricotta and parmesan cheese. season with salt, pepper and italian herbs. add mozzarella cheese and continue to stir.

on a stovetop, heat alfredo and pesto sauces over low-medium heat. boil a pot of water.

lay out half of wonton wrappers and fill with small spoonfuls of cheese mixture right in the center of the wrapper.

mix the egg and cold water together to make the egg wash. spread this wash around the edges of filled ravioli. press the remaining wonton wrapper on top to ensure a tight seal. drop 2-3 raviolis in the boiling water. let cook for 2 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon.

toast pine nuts in an oven at 350 degrees for approximately 7 minutes.

place cooked ravioli on a plate, drizzle with pesto alfredo sauce, top with toasted pine nuts. serve and enjoy!