Monday, October 31, 2011

Anniversary Cake

Bf visited this weekend and we had such an amazing time that I simply didn't couldn't find a moment to post on Friday. Our four year anniversary is next weekend, but this weekend was the best time for him to come out, so we simply did our celebrations early. As part of our weekend, I made an anniversary cake. My bf's mom gave me this amazing chocolate cookbook. It's called Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. I picked out a great chocolate cake from the menu and decided to combine it with the Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting that I originally made with the Spiced Chai Latte Cupcakes.

St. Louis Chocolate Layer Cake
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup water
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup milk

Frosting
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
dash of vanilla

I started by sifting together the flour, salt, and baking powder.








I also buttered and floured the cake pans and set them aside.








At this time, I also melted the chocolate and and water in a pan and set it aside to cool slightly. Then, I creamed the butter in a bowl. Once the butter was creamed, I added the sugar and mixed again.






Next, I separated the eggs and added the yolks and mixed again.








I then added the chocolate and mixed again.









After the chocolate was incorporated, I started adding the flour, slowly and alternating with the milk.








Finally, I beat the egg whites in a separate bowl and gently folded them into the batter.








I baked the cakes on 375 for about 28 minutes until they were just done. because it's devil's food cake, you really don't want them to be dry.







I let the cakes cool in to pans for about ten minutes, then cut around the edges with a sharp knife.








I then put the cake on wire racks and let them cool completely. One of the awesome things about this cake is that is cools really flat, so it's really easy to stack.






Once the cake was cooled, I started the frosting. I have to admit, I didn't have my best baking moment. I actually had to make the frosting twice because the first time didn't turn out so well. I really need to get a stand mixer, because my hand mixer is awesome, but is so loud it drives me crazy. I started by mixing together the sugar and the egg whites in a double boiler. I cooked them, whisking constantly, for 3-4 minutes, or until they look like runny marshmellow cream.

I then mixed the egg white mix until it formed a stiff meringue. Basically, when you stop beating, the meringue should roughly hold its shape. I then added the butter, one tablespoon at a time and mixed until it was completely incorporated before adding more. Finally, I added some vanilla and beat the frosting until it was nice and thick. The key with this frosting is to make sure you beat the meringue nice and thick before adding any butter. That was my mistake the first time.

I frosting the cake and made a little four on top.









It was so unbelievably tasty and the frosting went great with the cake. I will definitely be making this recipe again!!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mirror Mirror On The Wall...

I'm so not the fairest of them all this morning. Just saying. Anyways....my mom gave me this mirror when I moved out to CA. It used to belong to grandmother. I love the ornate details and the really old world feel. Sure I don't want me entire apartment to be this sparkly and frilly, but a touch here and there is just perfect. I think it also screams "girl's bedroom!". Which is exactly where I decided it needed to go.

I originally thought I might want it to go in the little nook to the left of where it is hanging now. But my bedroom badly needs some light and I think a floor lamp is going to have to take over the nook. Instead, it gets to be center stage on this mini-wall.













A head-on shot, so you can see some more detailing. Just to give you perspective, I think its about 2.5 feet tall. I used one of those museum hangers I've talked about in the past. I used a two-prong hanger that could support up to 50 lbs for two reasons. 1) I'm neurotic about things falling and always plan for more weight than I need. 2) I already had it in my tool box and didn't want to go to the hardware store.











And here is a view to show you from the side with some of the rest of the room. At some point, I think I'll need to do a video of the bedroom because there really isn't a good way to get the whole room in one shot. Oh well, good goal for the future.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lots and Lots of Black Frames

As part of my preparation for my wall gallery, I did need more black frames. Granted, I already had a lot. But seriously, this wall project is a behemoth. At least I think so. I had a gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond, so I started there. I got a bunch of different sizes- but they didn't have too many odd sizes and their selection was picked over. Then I went to Michael's. Their frame selection is really amazing and usually they have some awesome deals. Finally, when I was at a local thrift store, I picked a few more and spray painted the non-black one, black. I think this last option is particularly great for tiny budgets, especially if you already have black matte paint (which I do).

Here is the small print I have at my desk in one of the new frames.
















And a shot from far away. I think the saying is perfect to encourage brilliant writing. (I doubt I ever achieve brilliance, but hey, I can dream).







Here is another one in my closet (yes I bought a bunch of these dogs prints. I found them on Etsy and I thought they were amazing. I love the bold colors and the quotes. Plus I really super love dogs.)














This is the frame I spray painted black. I forgot to take a before picture (bad blogger!). Basically it was unfinished wood. A few coats later and I think it looks better than new! It's still waiting for it's designated picture, but progress!

I also got this thin metal frame. Luckily this one came with two black cardboard backing pieces, so I cut a hole out of one to make matting, printed up the logo from an amazing restaurant in Dublin and poof! a brand new piece of art. I just think the elephant is so cute! (and why, yes, this is a sneak peak of my gallery wall, thank you for asking!).


This frame is just like the one above but it only had one piece of matting, so I cut out a rectangle in the center of a piece of paper and made white matting for this awesome Pride and Prejudice postcard I got in Bath, England about 7 years ago. (Confession: I may have a touch of hoarder in me)




I got a bunch more frames as well, but I don't want to spoil all of my new things on the gallery wall, which is so closed to being done! I can't wait to show you!

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Art

Art is a tricky concept. You want to get things you like. You don't want to spend a ton of money. You don't want it to be all matchy matchy. I decided that I would just keep my eyes open and see how it went. I was perusing local thrift, antique and vintage stores the other day and on the way out of my last store, I thought for sure I would be leaving all of my places empty handed, when all of a sudden I found a painting that struck my fancy.

I love how the colors go with my apartment and it reminds me so much of Prague or Budapest or something. Oh, and best part, it was $20.















I don't know if this picture shows the texture, but it's awesome.
















Right now it's sitting here, instead of the drawing that was there before. I like that it's a little darker and has more contrast than the other picture. I'm not sure if it will respond there permanently, but for now it works.














This writing is on the back, but I have no idea what it means. Does anyone have any ideas?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Italian Wedding Soup

I've tried a few Barefoot Contessa recipes before and they've all been really excellent. Especially the soups. So when ever I'm in the mood to try a new soup or there is a particular recipe I'm looking for, I like to check the Food Network site. This recipe was really good, although not quite as good as the Lentil Sausage recipe I tried. It's also very healthy and full of excellent veggies. in fact, you don't really taste the insane amount of spinach, so it's a nice way to pack in some great vitamins. The meatballs are also fantastic on their own, so I will definitely make them again to put into a pasta sauce.

Italian Wedding Soup
from the Food Network

For the meatballs:
3/4 pound ground chicken
1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 tablespoons milk
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup minced yellow onion
1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
10 cups homemade chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars
1/4 cup minced fresh dill
12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed

I started by putting all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mashing them together with a fork.








I then formed the meatballs and placed them on parchment paper to bake. The recipe originally called for a teaspoon scoop, but that was really impractical. You want to have about 40 meatballs, so a tablespoon makes way more sense. I then baked the meatballs for about 25 minutes at 350 degrees. You want the meatballs to be nice and golden brown on the outside but not dry.

Once the meatballs were done (like the picture on the left), set them aside. This step can even be done the day before or earlier in the day.







Once I was ready to make the rest of the soup, I chopped up the carrots and celery (usually the recipe calls for onion, but I was out). I cooked the carrots and celery in some olive oil for about five minutes, until they were tender.





I then added the wine and the broth and brought the liquid to a boil.








I then added the pasta and let it simmer for about 6-8 minutes until the pasta was tender. I then added the meatballs and the dill and cooked for another minute or two. Next, I added the spinach and cooked until the spinach was wilted (I forgot to take a picture of this step).



When the soup was ready, I served it in large bowls with some Parmesan cheese on top. This picture was actually of the leftovers the night after I originally made the recipe. I think the soup really improves the day after. The broth to meatball and veggie ratio is better and the flavors really develop. Perfect leftovers!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Homemade Coasters

This project was one that I originally planned to do and write about last Thursday. Best laid plans. Ugh. Anyways, after buying my new coffee table, it quickly became clear to me that I needed some coasters. I am always studying, reading, doing something on my couch and usually a beverage is not far away. But I didn't want to buy some boring, single colored coaster. I wanted them to be colorful and fun.

This picture was my inspiration, from Pinterest, of course. I love them. I love how sophisticated and stylish they look. I love that I can pick my own colors and designs. So off I went to Michael's to get some supplies. I picked out my papers, the felt, got the Modge Podge while I was there, and even clear sealer. Unfortunately, they don't have white tiles. Bummer. So I thought I would try the Ace Hardware near my parents' house. No dice. So then I figured I'd try the Ace near my apartment. It's bigger than any other Ace I've ever seen and they have everything....except tiles.

 At this point I was frustrated. I didn't want to drive 20 minutes away to find a tile store and this project was already a week longer than I thought it would take. So I was wandering around the home section and found these cork coaster things. I thought they might work. Note to self/spoiler: desperation purchases really aren't a good idea. Anywho, I brought them home, ready to give it a try and full of optimism. I traced circles around the coasters on the back of the paper, like so and then carefully cut them out.

 These are my circles all ready to go.
 I then modge podged the back and front of the paper to the coaster. I have no idea why this picture is so darn awful. I must remind myself to check this sort of thing from now on! I let the modge podge dry for a few hours and then took them outside.
I used a satin clear sealer and spray three coats on the coasters. One coat every hour or so until they were done. Then I let them dry for about 12 hours before using them. You can see the top ones (in the sun) display the satin finish really nicely. I think they definitely needed more coats of modge though to really look sealed around the edges. I love the paper and they work fine, but I feel very blah about the cork. It just really doesn't have that finished look that I wanted. Oh well, I am resolved to view this as a practice run and since I have lots of extra paper, once I finally get tiles, I will try again. I'll be sure to let you know how that goes once I try it. Until then, at least my coffee table won't get rings on it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

More Hallway Projects

A few weeks ago, I was at a local Art and Wine Festival. One of the stalls had amazing wooden letters from old printing presses. Because of the nature of technology, they are over 100 years old. Any pretty much anything that old is awesome in my book. Since it was a festival though, the letters were a little pricier than I expected. I was happy to shell out $5 per letter for a few, but I wasn't going to go farther than that. So I got a J and an L- which on their own don't make much sense.

At one of my many recent Michael's trips, I picked up this heart (which is wooden) and a little bottle of pink paint. I then used a little foam brush to paint on a few coats of paint (giving the prior coat about 24 hours to dry in between).

Right now I just have my little figures sitting on the counter, but when the time comes for hanging things, I will use a few little command strips to hang the letters and the heart. I love how it will add some depth and interest to the wall. I'm sure this little project will not be the first time I buy old letters!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Organization

I feel like the organizing, unpacking, situating after my move is taking forever. The truth is it's totally my fault because I didn't do it all at once. I just wanted to feel like I wasn't pressured to make decisions quickly and then regret them later, I guess. Either way, I'm working on it and making baby steps.

I started my organization kick by picking up another tray. The drawer is still totally packed and ridiculous, but it's better. Unfortunately, I only have two drawers in my entire kitchen- one has all of my silverware and one has everything else. Totally ridiculous, I know.




I know this picture is awful and I apologize. Right now I have all of my heavy scarves hanging right here, but just a few days ago, I had every single scarf I own jammed on that bar.






So, I got two of these awesome scarf hangers and hung up most of my scarves on them. Then I hung up two heavy duty hooks for each hanger. Only problem was, the next morning when I woke up, each hook had fallen and the scarves were on the floor. Boo.













So for right now, I have both scarf hangers in the closet. It's not really an ideal situation, but at least it's way better than it was before. I'm still hoping to find a way to hang them in a way that makes each scarf more visible. If you have any ideas, I want to hear them!













Finally, I found this awesome trick on Pinterest. Rather than buying tons of pairs of boot trees, you use skirt hangers! It's amazing. It doesn't hurt the boots either because it pinches the inside of each boot and keeps them upright.




It is such an amazing trick because it clears up the floor and makes everything so much neater. Of course, there were certain boots, like my rain boots, that I wear all the time, so I didn't bother hanging those up.













Monday, October 17, 2011

The Beginning of My Hallway Gallery

Other titles I considered were "my floor hasn't seen daylight in days" or "the worst planned art project ever". But, the moral of the story is I have finally started planning my hallway gallery. It's a long process and I am still very much in middle of it, but any progress is better than none, right?

Picture from here
So far, I've been focusing on collecting whatever I want to hang, making some art, and buying various black frames. This photo is my original inspiration. It came from Young House Love- pretty much my favorite blog ever. If my walls were gray, I would undoubtedly do white frames, I love the look. But my hallways are that awful dirty white color that every single apartment building seems to use and it really really doesn't layer well with crisp white frames. Plus, I had a bunch of black frames already, so I decided to run with it. Anyway, I have a few projects to share with you, including this one, which was the worst planned project ever.








I have an amazing picture of my grandfather and one of his pocket knives. Every day for his entire life he has carried a pocket knife and so has collected a gigantic box full of them. A few years ago he let me pick one out and I found an amazing gold one with his initials. I wanted to put together some sort of shadow box that had the picture and knife, but I wasn't quite sure how- so I winged it. First, I bought a shadow frame that came with a few different levels of depth. Then I brought the frame home and realized there was no material to attach the photo or the knife. Drat. Really didn't think that through. So I went back to Michael's, bought photo stickers and a large piece of black foam. I needed something thick enough to hold up the knife as well. I then attached the stickers to the back of the photo (I left the cover on the bottom right corner just so you could see what they looked like).

These were the stickers I used. They really didn't work, at least not on the foam, but I'm getting ahead of myself.







Then I attached the photo and the knife with the stickers.








I then put the photo in between books to seal the stickers. Unfortunately a few hours later, when I went to pick up the foam, the photo and knife basically popped off. Double drat. Luckily while I was at Michael's the second time I picked up a tub of Modge Podge for a different project. I dabbed some podge on the back of the photo and put it in between the books again. Then I had the brilliant idea to use some of the black thumb tacks leftover from my pumpkin Halloween project. The big black tack heads didn't look right, so I tried putting the pins in from the back.

Once the glue dried I carefully assembled the frame, keeping the knife in place.















This picture isn't the best because of the glare, but I love how it turned out and I think it will look great on my wall (eventually).