Friday, May 31, 2013

A Salad for Popeye

I'm not much of a salad person. I'm just not. Practically the only salads I will eat willingly are spinach based or so totally doused in toppings the lettuce is invisible. I found this recipe on pinterest and thought it would be a good option for nights when I want to eat healthily. They don't come very often, but when they do, I like to be armed and ready.

This salad couldn't be easier to make and is perfect for summer when it's hot and you don't want to turn on the stove or oven. Fiance even liked it and he generally isn't a raw spinach person. I will be making this as regularly as he will tolerate. That's how much I like it. I can't encourage you enough to try it.

Spinach Salad with all the Fixings
recipe from here
SALAD:
8 cups chopped spinach (1 bag)
1 cup halved cherry or pear tomatoes
1/2 cup corn (I used frozen and just followed the microwave instructions)
1 1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken (I probably used closer to 2 cups)
1 large avocado, sliced
1/3 cup crumbled goat or feta cheese (I used about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (I used about 1/3 of a cup)

DRESSING:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1.5 tablespoon Dijon mustard (but I like my dressing extra tangy, feel free to change it up)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

As you can see, I made some changes. Feel free to switch up the amounts to suit your tastes.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Not So Mellow Yellow

I think I've mentioned that we are not yellow people. Nothing against the color, it's just not for us. Especially not the heavy, dark yellow that is in our hallway. Well, was in our hallway. Way back when we chose paint colors for the kitchen, dining room and living room, we tested some paint samples. Then we painted the three rooms and got tired. Then we looked at the height of the hallway ceiling and said no thank you. Simply put, we don't have the materials to paint the super high, narrow ceilings, and I was worried about the safety factor. Given all of the other projects on our to-do list, fiance's need to study for the bar exam, and the fact I'm still in school, we just decided to hire someone. This project is the type I usually want to tackle myself, but I needed to be realistic. It just wasn't going to happen. So after staring at the paint squares on the wall for over a month, we bit the bullet.

It was pretty amazing how fast a professional painter transformed our hallway. He started at 8:00 AM and finished by 3:00 PM I think? Maybe sooner? So worth it. Enjoy the picks. I may or may not have petted the walls lovingly as I walk up and down the stairs. I'm pretty obsessed and have big plans for the wall near the front door.

Before:



 


We decided on the far left color. It's the same color as the kitchen.

After:

Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day to everyone. A special thank you to everyone who has served or is serving in the armed forces and their families who have sacrificed so much. I'm spending some time with family and friends today, because last week was so insane. Fiance and I made so much house progress that I can't wait to share with you. It's been quite a week. I'll be back on Wednesday to share some of these updates.

In the mean time, I realized that I never shared my May calendar print. It's probably my favorite of all of the prints I've ever had. Which is a touch unfortunate, given that it spent most of the month in a box. Oh well. Maybe I can find something fun to do with it once the month is over. See back here on Wednesday.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Mother's Day Apple Spice Bundt Cake

For Mother's Day, we used the equipment left over from the bridal shower and made quite a spread for brunch. We still had the tent, chairs, table, linens and flowers, so my sister, my sister-in-law to-be, and I just made a bunch of food and we all sat outside. It was unbelievably peaceful and lovely.

I was tasked with the breakfast sweets and decided to try this Apple Spice Bundt Cake posted by my dear friend Kristin. It was absolutely delicious and incredibly moist, even if I did have a little difficulty with the removal process.

Other than the few minutes it took to grate the apples, this recipe couldn't be any easier. You could also chop the apples if you like bigger chunks, or perhaps use a special grater or your food processor? Anyway, you should definitely give it a try. I found it to be a great brunch dessert. I popped it in the oven, showered and was ready in time to glaze it! Thanks to Kristin for the amazing recipe!

Apple Spice Bundt Cake
recipe from here

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 t. vanilla
3 apples, cored, peeled, and diced or shredded
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar
1 t. to 1 T. cinnamon
1 t. vanilla
1/4 cup milk (add more to thin glaze, if needed)

I started by mixing together the flours, nutmeg, salt, sugar, and baking soda.
Then I  whisked together the oil, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla. I added the dry ingredients and mixed together with a spatula until combined. Don't worry if it's dry. Then I grated the the apples and added those and the pecans. Once you add the apples, the mixture is plenty wet.
See? Make sure you really grease and flour your pan. I only sprayed and perhaps that was part of my problem.
Bake at 300 for 50-60 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes. I only did five and only half of the cake came out. I was able to do some repairs, but still, not the prettiest.
I mixed together the glaze and was hoping that would cover up the errors.
It didn't.
So I improvised and covered the whole thing with powdered sugar.
That helped a little bit. It may have not been my prettiest creation, but boy was it tasty. The leftovers were also incredible cold. This cake will be made again.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bridal Shower Dessert Results

The bridal shower ended up being a great success! My mom and the bride-to-be's best friend and mom co-hosted and did a great job. There were great games, fun company, and my mom's garden provided the perfect scenery. The caterer is a close family friend and absolutely amazing. It was such a fun day and although a bit hot, it was lovely.

The tables were lovely. Feminine, but not overly girly.
The drink table alone was incredible.
The soup was a cold tomato gazpacho and the very gazpacho I've ever liked.
The meal was a trio of salads. A deconstructed BLT, a chicken salad, and a hummus and baba ganoush salad. I scarfed down all of it.
The meal finished with my desserts. I was pretty happy with how it all turned out. I'm not professional, but a few people were fooled. That's pretty much the best compliment I could have received.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Margaret Mitchell's Butterscotch Brownies

My great-grandmother, Margaret Mitchell Watkins, had some amazing recipes. I think it's pretty awesome that my middle name comes from her maiden name (Mitchell) and I love to bake. It makes me feel very connected to her in some special way.

This recipe is a little finicky. I've had some difficulties in the past making the recipe work, but my mom makes these brownies all the time and has the process perfected. So she helped me and now I have it down too! I've included my notes and if you follow them very closely, you should be fine.

Butterscotch Brownies
1  6 oz. package of butterscotch chips
¼ cup butter
1 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
¼ tsp. vanilla
¾ cup sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped walnuts


You must use parchment paper. Must. It is not optional. You can either have the tabs come up over two sides or four. Then spray the heck out of the pan.
In a double boiler, melt together the butterscotch chips and the butter over low heat. Use a wooden spoon- this step is very important! Then add the brown sugar and once mixed in, turn off the heat. Let the mixture cool for five minutes.
Pour the sugar/butterscotch mixture into a bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Then, using your spoon, beat the mixture 40 times. Count. It will turn all shiny and smooth.
Pour the mixture into the pan and bake at 350 for 30 minutes for a 9 inch pan and 35 for an 8 inch pan. I'd suggest you check after about 28 minutes and then go two more minutes at a time.
 It's a little hard to tell when these things are done. Because if you pull them out too early, the center sort of collapses. You can use a toothpick, but my mom sort of tests with her finger. She just pushes very gently to see if it's sort of firm. The outside will be a bit more crispy, which is still super tasty. Let the brownies cool for about ten minutes or so and then cut around the outside and flip over.

You can see how I cut the brownies into small squares. These brownies are super rich and so should be cut into relatively small portion sizes. They freeze super well, so you can save them for a really long time. Although I doubt if you will be able to resist. These puppies are addictive! From my family to yours, enjoy!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Raspberry Sorbet in Lemon Cups

I found this idea on pinterest (where else I know). I thought it looked like such a nice option. It provided visual interest (higher than the other desserts), a different texture, and a different temperature. It turned out to be a great choice because it was super hot this weekend and the cold sorbet was seriously appreciated. The dessert definitely took some time to prepare, but I was happy to do something that didn't require turning on the oven. I will certainly use this recipe (can I call it that if I didn't make the sorbet?) during the summer when the heat is just too oppressive for oven use.

I started by washing off my lemons. I got a huge bag from my grandmother's very active lemon tree. It always helps to have fresh lemons. They are so pretty and smell so amazing.
Next, I cut the lemons in half.
And trimmed the bottoms to help them sit flat. Be sure to trim as little as possible so pith stays in the bottom of the cup.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Day My Perfectionism Took Over

I have days when I question whether I chose the right profession. Last Monday was one of those days. I needed to test the last dessert recipe for the bridal shower and somehow I went crazy. I didn't really intend to. I just did.

The day started simply enough, I pulled out the ingredients to start baking and then got to thinking. Would it be better to serve the cupcakes in liners or without? I decided I'd make a tray of each. Easy enough. And then the downward spiral began. The recipe calls for you to cut out a cone shape from the top of the cupcake and fill the hole with lemon curd. Then slice off the top of the cone and replace it on the top of the cupcake.

That probably would be fine for large cupcakes, but seemed problematic for mini guys. Would there be enough lemon curd? Could I even cut out a hole big enough? I decided to give it a try, but also to try a few other options. My second option was just to mix the lemon curd into the frosting. Same taste, way less work. My third option was to skip the curd and just add lemon zest. More subtle flavor, bigger visual impact because the zest added nice texture.

So before I knew it, I was making six different options. Three frosting choices, two wrapping/no-wrapping choices. Luckily, the recipe made a big batch, so I just divided it up. But still, it was ridiculous.

Lemon Poppyseed Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
recipe from here
Cupcake

1 c (150 g) cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1/3 c + 2 Tbls (170 g) sugar, divided
Zest of 1 lemon
5 eggs, separated
1/4 c (60 ml)water
1/4 c (60 ml) vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
5/8 tsp cream of tartar
4 Tbls poppy seeds

Frosting
1 8oz package cream cheese, at room temp
4 Tbls butter, at room temp
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Note: I baked mini cupcakes, but you could also do regular. I ended up mixing about 1/3-1/2 of a cup lemon curd into the frosting, but you could easily put them in the center if you desired.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Setting the Bar High

The other day I mentioned my mom's incredible gardening prowess. I was home this past weekend for my brother's fiance's bridal shower and my mom's garden put on quite the show. To be fair, she has a degree in landscape design and years and years of practice. Not to mention, the hours she puts in to feeding and caring for her roses. But still, wow. Unbelievable. Also, I wish I could share the smell with you. It's even better than they look, if that's possible. Enjoy!









My grandfather would be so proud. I like to imagine him sitting out among the roses. Maybe he's there when no one is looking. That thought makes me happy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Flower Power

There is a very strange phenomenon going at on our house. Every day, at a about five p.m., a swarm of gnats congregates in the air over the middle of our patio. Not fantastic. After fiance did some research, we discovered that one of the culprits may be the flower bed on one side of the patio with a whole bunch of dirt just hanging out. In an attempt to rid the gnats of their habitat and encourage their relocation, we decided to move up the gardening schedule and tackle the flower situation. I knew I wanted to do a border of Lemon Thyme for many reasons. First, you can use it in cooking. Second, it smells lovely. Third, mosquitoes hate it and I hate mosquitoes, but they love me. So anything I can do to repel them is fantastic. We also had some lovely vines growing up the back and what I think are day lilies, but needed something for the middle. After some research, I settled upon peonies. They like the sun and don't mind the heat, which is very necessary for DC-region summers. They also tolerate the cold which was another big requirement. Finally, they are pretty. And I wanted pretty flowers. So off to the nursery we went.

Once I got home, I laid out my purchases to make sure the sizing was ok and to check the arrangement.


Then I pulled up some weeds, tilled the soil, added compost, and tilled again. The soil was already looking much improved.



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spring Pinterest Challenge: Chocolate Marshmallow Cups

This post could really be titled: Taking Care of Many Things with One Post. I always like to participate in Sherry and Katie's pinterest challenge, but this season was a bit of challenge. I actually have too much house stuff going on! It was hard for me to stop and do a little decor item when we are still unpacking. It didn't seem fair or right. But, I also am making all the desserts for my sister-in-law to-be's bridal shower this weekend. As all good bakers know, a big event is NOT the time to try a new recipe. So I needed to test the recipes I planned to use. One of the recipes was for chocolate marshmallow cups (think homemade mallomars). I found the original recipe through pinterest here. The announcement of the latest pinterest challenge was just the right encouragement I needed to try these babies out for the big day. Thus, two birds with one stone!

Here is my inspiration picture.


Chocolate Marshmallow Cups

16 ounces (454 grams) quality dark chocolate, chopped or chips
8 ounces (227 grams) quality milk chocolate, chopped or chips
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) unflavored gelatin
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 + 1/4 cups (138 ml, 4.5 fl oz) water, divided

Monday, May 6, 2013

Spice Up Your Life

....and now I have the Spice Girls stuck in my head. Lovely. Moving on. As part of our ongoing quest to organize the kitchen, we came up with a spice solution. City-dwellers know that space of any sort is at a premium, but especially in the kitchen. We have a smallish kitchen, as most home in our neighborhood do. But the storage space is actually quite good. There are a few cabinets that make up a sizable pantry (which I will show you as soon as we wrangle some sort of cohesive plan into them). But spices would have taken up way too much space in the pantry. And the OCD parts of fiance and I hated the mismatched spices bottles that we've collected over time. So we decided to try a spice drawer. At a recent trip to World Market, we found some containers we loved and used a 10% off coupon to snag 17 of them. We actually have room for 21,  but they only have 17 of the stainless steel king in stock. So we used another coupon to order some more online. Then it was time to transfer everything.

As you can see the spice bottles really weren't the most efficient use of space.


Friday, May 3, 2013

Growing a Green Thumb?

Yes, the question mark is intentional. I've had a few plants here and there. They've all died and quick and painful death. Which is a little awkward considering the amazing talents of my mom and grandfather. Their gardens are to die for, especially the roses. My mom tried to teach me as a kid and even forced me to help, but I hated it. HATED it. I still hate getting dirt under my nails (some things never change), but for some reason, once it was my house, I felt differently about the process. Let me tell you, I did not see this coming.

I should probably mention that my timing is ridiculous. My kitchen isn't fully unpacked, there are still boxes everywhere and bins in my closet. But it's been so nice here and it is already May (how did that happen!), so I got worried about getting my herbs and tomato plant in the ground. Our grass in front was desperately in need of trimming, so we went to Home Depot to get a rake and somehow I convinced fiance it was the right time to get gardening supplies. How I achieved that, I'm not sure.

I've been collected pots for the last week. The colorful ones are from Home Goods and the deals are amazing. I got both small ones for $32 combined. The smallest cute ones at Home Depot cost that much for one! Needless to say, I was pretty excited at my deal. I went with colorful pots because my entire backyard is brown. Brown fence, brown patio, brown dirt. This baby needed some color pronto. The white pots are from Home Depot and they cost $10 and are some alternative to terra cotta. I'm just liked them.


Then, while at Home Depot, I picked up my little plant guys. From left to right we have the tomato plant, thyme, mint, basil, a jalapeno bush, rosemary and a marigold.


 And also, oregano and two more marigolds for around the tomatoes. Marigolds help keep away tomato munching bugs.


Once we got home, I got to work planting my little lovies. The tomato plant in the middle and three marigolds on the outside. Plus a little tower for the tomato plant to climb. These plants were all in the big blue pot.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Modest Silver

On to the living room! The living room was next up on the painting agenda. The color wasn't awful. It was a light yellowish cream. I'm fairly certain the previous owners repainted most of the house before they listed it. In fact, I'm pretty certain the entire house used to be green. The kitchen and dining room were the lime green that still resided in the kitchen when we moved in. The living room was an olive green and the bedroom was a dark olive/ almost hunter green. But not a pretty emerald or forest color. A dark, dirty green. Thankfully the painted the bedroom a beautiful blue that we love and are leaving. But I digress. They chose a super neutral color for sale and it was fine. But yellowish cream isn't really my color and it certainly wouldn't have gone with my couch. So when we selected the gray for the kitchen, we also selected the gray for the living room. We chose to go with one tone lighter than the London Coach and ended up with Modest Silver.

 Before:




In this darker light, it's a little harder to see the difference, but look at the light picture!

After: