Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 300]

I wandered lonely as a cloud

I've seen a lot of stunning clouds over the past two days so I snapped enough pics to put together a collage.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 299]

Not that my lovely little grandmother will ever see this but I put together this collage to celebrate her 98th birthday. I made the difficult decision to not fly out to California this year to visit her and I'm more upset about that than I thought I'd be. And I'd anticipated quite a bit of unhappiness. Anyway, today's her big day and I'm happy to report that she's still going strong. Some of these pictures I took at previous years' birthday celebrations and others were obviously taken before my time.

She's had an amazing life and is a wonderful storyteller. Just when I think I've heard all of her tales about growing up in Germany, becoming a midwife (her midwife class is seen in the middle picture), surviving the war, emigrating to the United States, and making a life here she surprises me with something I've never heard before. My favorite new story is how she turned down marriage to a local boy, what would have been a stable, sensible match, because she knew she had too much of a sense of adventure to settle in the village. She wanted to see the world so worked to make that happen.

Anyway, I miss her as I miss my entire family and I'm glad to have had so many opportunities to spend time with her as I grew up.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Brownies. Need I Say More?

I've only been following Gingerbread Bagels for a few months but every recipe she posts has me drooling. If anything, her recipes have gotten better and better these past few months and she is the queen of coming up with wonky flavor combinations. A girl after my own heart! I already made one batch of baked goods using the irresistible chocolate-covered peanut butter-filled pretzel bites from Trade Joe's in some banana cupcakes but thought Gingerbread Bagels' idea to combine them with brownies would be even better.

It's rare for me to make chocolatey desserts since my husband's not a fan, but with my book club coming over last week I thought that was the perfect excuse to give these a whirl. Now I'm kicking myself for not making them sooner. Put these at the top of your to-bake list and you won't be sorry, I promise. The brownies themselves are full of delicious chocolate flavor but it's the light, airy peanut butter frosting that is the kicker. Combine that with the saltiness of the pretzel bites and this is a winner.

Despite what I'm sure is an alarmingly high calorie count I'm glad my group left a few behind so I could freeze them and savor them over the next few weeks. I think I'll be making these again and again when chocolate-loving guests come over.

Chubby Hubby Brownies
Recipe from Gingerbread Bagels

15 chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels, cut in half
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Sift together the flour, unsweetened cocoa powder and kosher salt. Set aside.

Take 15 chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels and cut them in half. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl with the paddle attachment (a handheld mixer works too), mix together the packed light brown sugar, sugar, melted unsalted butter and vanilla extract on medium speed.
Add in the eggs one at a time.

Slowly add in the dry ingredients on low speed. Mix until just combined. Take a spatula and fold the ingredients together.

Throw in the chopped chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels and fold them in.

Spread the brownie batter into a lightly greased 8×8 inch baking pan. Bake the brownies at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Cool the brownies before frosting with the peanut butter frosting.

Peanut Butter Frosting
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 Tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels, cut into small pieces for garnish (however many you like)

Sift the powdered sugar. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl with the paddle attachment (a handheld mixer works), combine the creamy peanut butter, softened unsalted butter and vanilla extract.

Slowly add in the powdered sugar and combine. Pour in the heavy whipping cream and mix until smooth.

Once the brownies are done cooling, frost them with a thick layer of peanut butter frosting. Cut some chocolate covered peanut butter filled pretzels into small pieces and sprinkle on top of the frosting. Cut into bars and enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 298]

I was completely out of ideas today. My backup plan when nothing else works seems to be selfies. Unfortunately those days tend to happen when my hair's at its craziest and I'm not looking my best after a long day at work. Oh well.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 297]

Reach out and touch faith

I guess this week my project is going to consist of photos inspired by song lyrics since I'm all out of other ideas.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 296]

"Pass me that lovely little gun
My dear, my darling one
The cleaners are coming, one by one
You don't even want to let them start

They are knocking now upon your door
They measure the room, they know the score
They're mopping up the butcher's floor
Of your broken little hearts"

- Nick Cave

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 295]

Today you get a teaser pic for some fabulous brownies I plan to post about soon with the recipe included. For now you can drool over the thought of peanut butter pretzel brownies.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 294]

Here's another one from yesterday's photo shoot that I think is even more Steve McCurry-esque. I think I got the lighting better on this one even though the cloudy skies made the entire day's shooting difficult. If nothing else this challenge has gotten me to learn more about lighting even if I haven't quite figured out how to apply those principles.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 293]

This week's artist challenge is devoted to photographer Steve McCurry, someone I wasn't very familiar with before. I had a lot of trouble trying to get the pose right for my artist challenge picture because I hate looking directly at the camera, which is how most of his subjects are positioned. Something about being that exposed makes me feel too vulnerable and on top of that my face looks weird full on. It just wasn't "me," which is what he's all about capturing in his subjects. It wasn't until I twisted my body like I was getting ready to walk away and then turned to face the camera that I got a shot I was happy with.

I hope I got something of the expressiveness and color of his shots right.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 292]

A Frozen Woman

This is my way of both coming up with an interesting shot for today and giving me an excuse to tell you how much this book kicks butt. It's the kind of book that makes me want to ignore all of my chores, shut off the TV, and curl up and read it cover to cover without stopping. I'm hoping to have a chance to do just that this weekend.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 291]

Just put on a happy face

"Forget your troubles
Come on get happy"

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 289 & 290]

Here's my little Loofy. She may look contemplative here but I assure you there's nothing going on behind those eyes. Poor doofy Loofy. :)

Would you believe I won this beauty?! The Union Jack scarf, that is, not the Dalek. I entered a random contest for the royal wedding and completely forgot about it until I received this $58 scarf in the mail from Boden. I never would have spent that much but it's just perfect for an Anglophile like me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Key Lime Pie Ice Cream Cupcakes

I can't quite remember when I first discovered the Cupcake Project blog but in the time that I've followed her "experimental cupcake blog" I've gotten tons of great ideas and even won two of her giveaways. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of hers as a result. She constantly pushes the boundaries of what you'd think can be done with ingredients and seems to have no fear when it comes to trying out crazy combinations and new ideas. And this month she hosted a contest encouraging the rest of us to come up with something new in the form of an ice cream cupcake. What better time of year to combine my two loves, ice cream and baked goods?

I tossed a few ideas around including turning my pretzel-stuffed banana, chocolate, and peanut butter cupcakes into an ice cream concoction but when I stumbled across a recipe for key lime pie ice cream on Pinterest the decision was made for me. Something about the sweltering heat we've been having lately calls for the tangy tartness of limes in a soothingly cool ice cream.

Although the idea of a key lime pie cupcake is hardly a novel one, I did my research to put together a recipe that combined the best elements: graham cracker base, cake with a flavorful kick from some lime zest, and a fluffy meringue-like frosting lightly toasted with the help of my handy blowtorch. Add in the tart key lime pie ice cream and I knew I had a recipe for success.

This was my first experience with this sort of meringue-based frosting and the recipe I chose did not disappoint! It whipped up beautifully into a saccharine marshmallowy cloud perfect for piling on top of the cupcakes and molding into fun shapes like this:

To make these ice cream cupcakes as easy to eat as possible, I went with the tried-and-true method of cutting out a cone and inserting the ice cream into each cupcake. I've seen other ice cream cupcakes with the ice cream sandwiched between two cake layers or on top in place of the frosting but this seemed the most efficient and neatest way to combine all of the elements and flavors. Considering how much of a mess my husband can make while eating I needed to find the least messy option here.

Not to toot my own horn but these are probably one of the top five best cupcakes I've ever made. I'm so glad I was challenged to make some ice cream cupcakes because as tasty as the cupcakes are on their own the added element of ice cream gives them another dimension of flavor and texture to complete the equation. All of the elements work perfectly together from the sweet, airy frosting to the tart, cool ice cream and the surprising crunch from the graham cracker crust. Absolutely delicious and, as I expected, a perfect treat for a hot summer day.

Note: No key limes were harmed in the making of these cupcakes. In other words, I was too cheap to splurge on the real deal and instead invested in a large bag of regular limes from my local produce market. They turned out wonderfully limey all the same but for authenticity feel free to substitute key lime juice.

Graham Cracker Crust
Recipe adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody

1/2 cups finely crushed graham cracker crumbs
1/8 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1) Prepare one muffin pan with paper liners.

2) In a food processor, blend together graham cracker crumbs and sugar.
Add 2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter. Pulse a few times. If it seems like it needs more butter add the remaining melted butter.

3) Distribute evenly among cupcake liners and press to form a shell using a spoon or your fingertips.

Lime Cupcakes
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 cup granulated sugar
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons soft unsalted butter
2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons lime zest
2 large eggs

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2) In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt.

3) Add the butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.

4) Combine the milk and vanilla and add, all at once. Add the lime zest and mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

5) With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Add the second egg, again beating for 30 seconds.

6) Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat briefly, just until smooth.

7) Scoop the batter by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tin. A muffin scoop works well here.

8) Bake the cupcakes for 23 to 25 minutes, until they've domed, and are a light golden brown around the edges. They'll spring back when pressed gently on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.

9) Remove the cupcakes from the oven, cool in pan on a rack for ten minutes. Then remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely on the rack.

10) Using the cone method cut a large cavity into each cooled cupcake.

Key Lime Pie Ice Cream
Recipe from Good Life Eats

This recipe makes much more ice cream than you'll need for the cupcakes. If you really can't think of anything to do with the extra delicious ice cream you should quarter the recipe.

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup lime juice (you can use bottled key lime juice)
1/2 cup heavy cream
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
Green food coloring (optional)
1/3 cup coarsely crushed graham crackers

1) In a large bowl, combine milk, lime juice, heavy cream, salt, lime zest, sweetened condensed milk, and food coloring if desired. Whisk to combine.

2) Pour mixture into your ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Stir 1/3 cup graham crackers into ice cream.

3) Spoon enough ice cream into each cupcake to fill each cavity. Place in a freezer-safe container, cover and freeze cupcakes about 1 hour or until ice cream is firm. Spoon the extra ice cream into a freezer-safe container, cover and freeze.

Fluffy Seven-Minute Frosting
Recipe from King Arthur Flour

This recipe makes a generous amount of frosting so feel free to halve the recipe.

2 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Sanding sugar (optional)
A servant to clean up the sticky dishes (optional but recommended)

1) Place the 2 egg whites in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer. Beat until the egg whites are foamy and thick; they should mound in the bowl, without holding a peak. Set them aside while you prepare the sugar syrup.

2) Combine the sugar, cream of tartar, water, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently; the sugar should be dissolved. If the sugar hasn't dissolved, cook and stir a bit more, until it has.

3) Begin to beat the egg whites, and immediately pour the boiling sugar syrup into the egg whites in a slow stream, beating all the while. As you beat, the mixture will thicken.

4) Once all the syrup is added, stir in the vanilla, and continue to beat until the frosting is thick and will hold a peak.

5) Spoon the hot frosting atop the cooled cupcakes, swirling it decoratively. Sprinkle with sanding sugar and lightly brown with a blowtorch.

The contest is hosted by both Cupcake Project and Scoopalicious so be sure to check them both out for delicious inspiration.

A Photo A Day [Days 283-285]

Whoa, looks like I'm way behind on posting my photos. Sorry, life has gotten busy lately so I've been slacking when it comes to blogging. Truth be told, I'm also suffering from a bit of a creative drought so none of my photos has wowed me lately.

Wednesday's picture was a filler from a previous photo shoot. It didn't occur to me to take a photo until late and my idea didn't pan out so I went with this prettier picture instead of a bridge just outside of Philadelphia.

On Thursday I waited all day to go to the mall so I could do some shopping I'd been wanting to do all week and take pictures of the carnival near there. I did all of my chores, just got done working out and then it started storming like crazy. No mall, no carnival, and hence no good pictures that day. Some days life just does not cooperate with a 365 photography project.

Friday was one of those days where I was lacking inspiration and energy so all I managed to get was a few shots from around town. In other words, nothing too interesting until I started to do a little Photoshop magic. For some reason this perfectly innocent house that is no doubt owned by lovely people looked eerie enough to me that I wanted to turn it into something spooky instead.

I prefer my version to the boring reality of my neighborhood. Click on the image for a larger image so you can see the special surprise I left for you.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Paris Trip Giveaway

I've cut back on posting about random giveaways here on my blog but this one is too good to resist. I'm ashamed to admit I only discovered Oh Happy Day today because her blog is stylish, fun, and full of the sorts of crafting and travel info I love to read.

Amazingly, she is giving away a trip to Paris, which includes your own personal tour guide as she's lived there long enough to know the best sites and shops and places to buy delicious food. How cool is that? Just go here to visit her blog and get all the details on how to enter.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 281 & 282]

You'll be happy to hear after the cheesecake disaster that I was able to salvage the rest of the cake and made something I was actually proud to present to my husband. I whipped up a one-layer strawberry cake to stack between the banana cake layers. I had the brilliant time-saving idea to put instant banana pudding between the layers and topped it all with banana buttercream. My husband was a happy camper.

Today I bought myself some post-anniversary flowers. Normally I'd shun peonies for being ant magnets but as I'm keeping them indoors I think I'll be safe. When I was a kid my mom had planted some along the driveway of my childhood home so getting out of the car during certain months was an adventure for those of us with a perfectly rational fear of ants. Eek!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Photo A Day [Days 279 & 280]

Now that my husband has a fancy car he's eager to take it out and show it off. On Saturday we went to a small car show at a local store. This was one of the cars on display.

Nothing says "I love you" like a pile of slop, eh?

My husband is impossible to shop for so for our fifth wedding anniversary I decided to bake him something special. Unfortunately my baking skills failed me when it came to making the cheesecake layer. This was supposed to be a wonderful banana cheesecake with white chocolate Toblerone that was to be sandwiched between two layers of banana cake. Instead I wound up with a pathetic pile of slop since the damn thing collapsed into a pancake-thin mess that wouldn't come out of the pan. It may taste good but it's useless as a cake layer. Happy anniversary? :(

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 278]

This is another entry for the Richard Avedon artist challenge. I think I've done much better with it this time around. And I got to wear my cute black dress before I banish it to the closet again.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 277]

I killed a flower today for the sake of this seemingly random photo. I hope it was worth it. Poor little flower.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Photo A Day [Day 276]

Eh, I'm not totally thrilled with today's photo but I have been assured I'm being too critical. For this week's artist challenge we're meant to emulate Richard Avedon. I don't quite think I nailed it but that could be because his portraits are just so amazing I could never compete.