Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Beautiful Baby Shower...

Recently, I had the honor of attending a beautiful book-themed baby shower for my good friend Jessica! It was one of the most darling showers I have ever been to, and it was easy to see that the three hostesses put lots of love and attention into all of the little details. For more on the shower, visit my dear friend Anna's blog, as she was one of the fabulous hostesses!

Having just started her second year of law school, Anna found herself swamped with school work and asked if I wouldn't mind helping her with the dessert table. I jumped at the opportunity to help in any way that I could, and we quickly set about picking some recipes. We settled on gingerbread whoopie pies, truffles, and chocolate bark topped with figs and smoked almonds (specially requested by the mommy-to-be).

I had tried the whoopie pies once before (click here for the post) and loved the flavor but was less than pleased with their appearance. So, I tweaked the process just a bit and this time they came out perfectly! I was thrilled!

I've been holding onto this bark recipe for almost a year now, and was really excited to try it out. I love smoked almonds AND figs, so I wasn't disappointed. In fact, it might be my new favorite chocolate bark! If you're feeling adventurous, give it a try...

Chocolate Bark with Smoke Almonds and Fig:
1 lb semi sweet chocolate
1/2 c smoked almonds, chopped
1/2 c dried figs, chopped
sea salt

Line a cookie pan with wax paper or aluminum foil. Melt chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments until almost melted, then stir until smooth. Pour the chocolate onto the prepared cookie sheet, and spread into a thin layer using a non-stick spatula. Then immediately sprinkle the chopped almonds and dried figs onto the chocolate layer, presing the toppings lightly into the chocolate. Top with sea salt, and let stand at room temperature until firm. However, if you're in a hurry, you can place the bark in the refrigerator to firm up.

loving the texture from the almonds and figs

isn't it pretty? =) 

I stumbled upon this truffle recipe years ago and have been giving them as little gifts during the holidays ever since. They are always a hit - in fact my sister requests batches of them quite frequently - but they can be time consuming to make. My back always aches after hours of bending over a bowl of melted chocolate, dipping truffles. =) Nonetheless, it makes me happy to bake yummy treats that others genuinely enjoy, so I will probably continue making them forever and ever. Below is the super simple recipe.

Chocolate Oreo Truffles:
1 pkg oreo cookies
1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, room temperature
2 (8 oz) pkgs semi-sweet baking chocolate

Place cookies in a food processor and pulse until they are reduced to fine crumbs. Mix all but 1/4 cup of the crumbs into the cream cheese until well blended. *TIP - its significantly faster to mix these using a stand mixer or hand mixer, just be careful not to use a high speed, because you'll end up flinging crumbs all over the kitchen*

Roll the cream cheese mixture into 1 inch balls and place them in the refrigerator for an hour to firm up. Once the truffles have chilled, melt your chocolate in the microwave at 30 second intervals until smooth when stirred. Then line a cookie sheet with wax paper or aluminum foil. Dip each truffle into the melted chocolate and lift out using two forks or spoons - I happen to prefer spoons - then place the dipped truffle onto the cookie sheet and sprinkle with reserved crumbs or chocolate sprinkles (or whatever topping you prefer) before the chocolate sets.

Allow the dipped truffles to chill in the refrigerator for a couple hours, or overnight. Then store in an airtight container and ENJOY!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Birthday Boy

Happy 30th Birthday to my best friend, and the most wonderful husband a girl could ask for!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pretty Little Things

At 5:00 pm today my vacation officially started. It is the first vacation we've taken since our honeymoon last October, and I think I speak for both myself and my husband when I say that it's LONG overdue. We are leaving tomorrow morning for a week at the beach and I am beyond excited! So excited, in fact, that I did very little "work" today and a lot of daydreaming.

One of my favorite things to do is shop for serving pieces, and today I was captivated by some absolutely beautiful cake stands and bon bon bowls. I've posted some of my favorites!

These first three are by Layla Grayce. I love almost everything by this designer, but I think the pink cake stand is my favorite. It just makes me happy =)

rosanna pink round cake stand

loving the ribbon!

rosanna footed bon bon bowl

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved Hobnail milk glass by Fenton Crystal. These are two pieces I've been dying to have. Hopefully I'll be adding them to my collection soon!

the ruffle detail is beautiful


I'm not quite sure who makes these cake plates, but I immediately fell in love with the beautiful colors in this photograph. The stands are lovely, and the cakes are exquisite. Love =)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Weekend on the River

Last weekend, my dear friend Lillian and I drove to Southport, North Carolina to visit our oh-so-fabulous friend, Eric. Southport is a beautiful and charming town on the coast, and back in June Eric left Raleigh to make Southport his new home. We've missed him terribly ever since, so we seized the first opportunity we had to take a road trip and visit!

We decided to put together a housewarming gift, so Lillian swung by Midtown Olive Press and chose a delightful gourmet olive oil and misto, while I got to work on my contribution: Creamy Apricot Chocolate Truffle Bars.

The layers of shortbread, truffle, and mascarpone were quite delicious but didn't firm up as much as I thought they would, once chilled. Nevertheless, I do believe they were a hit, and would be just as delicious with a variety of fruits: raspberry, strawberry, fig, etc. I've posted the recipe below, along with a photo tour of our amazing weekend in Southport! Enjoy! =)

Base Ingredients:
1 c butter, softened
1/2 c powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 c AP flour
1/2 c chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 13x9 inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl beat the butter, powdered sugar and salt together with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Then, turn the mixer to low speed and gradually beat in the flour until a dough forms. Stir in walnuts and spread mixture into prepared pan. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely and set aside.

  walnut shortbread bottom, done!

Truffle Ingredients:
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 oz) bag dark chocolate baking chips
2/3 c apricot preserves (or any other fruit preserve you might prefer to use)

In a medium bowl, microwave milk and chocolate chips for one minute, then stir. If chips are not completely melted after stirring, microwave in 15 second increments, until smooth. Stir in fruit preserves and spread over cooled shortbread base. Refrigerate 1 hour or until set.
truffle ingredients

apricot truffle layer, done!

Topping Ingredients:
1 (8 oz) container mascarpone cheese
1 1/3 c sugar
2/3 c whipping cream
1 tbs fruit preserve

In a medium bowl, beat cheese, sugar, and cream on medium speed until smooth. Then beat on high speed until mixture is thick. Stir in fruit preserve and spread over truffle layer. Refrigerate one hour or until chilled. Cut into bars and serve.

mascarpone topping, done!

bon apetite!
(i just LOVE the layers - aren't they pretty?!)

We arrived rather late in the evening on Friday, so Eric graciously entertained us at his adorable new home. After a quick tour, we settled onto his back porch to enjoy some cocktails and good company. Lillian and I immediately fell in love with Eric's new place. It has so much character, and is nestled in the heart of one of the most darling, tree-lined streets I've ever seen!

Eric's charming river cottage

front porch: antique church bench - love it!
(this bench came from Eric's grandmother's church, and his father refinished it for him)

screened in porch - love the white wicker!

Saturday morning, Eric took us for a tour of downtown Southport. We walked along the main street, which sits right on the water, and meandered in and out of antique shops and charming boutiques. I was in heaven!

After exploring the downtown area, we headed over to Provision (one of Eric's favorites) for a quick lunch. I loved this place! It's quite small, but all seating is outside on their covered deck, and the restaurant sits right on the water. In fact, you can dock your boat and come right up for a bite to eat or a drink - very neat. We all ordered the crab cake sandwich, and quickly agreed it was one of the freshest and most delicious crab cakes we've ever had.

lunch on the water...

Eric and Lil  =)

the view from our table

After lunch we crossed the bridge to Oak Island for a quick tour of the area where Eric works. The island is beautiful, and I would love to come back with Jason at some point and spend a beach weekend there. As an aside, I am beyond envious that he gets to work blocks from the beach everyday.

Once we arrived back in Southport, we headed over to Old American (another of Eric's favs) to enjoy a glass of vino and the beautiful weather! This particular place actually extends out over the water and again, all of the seating is outside. As we were sitting at our table, I looked down through the wooden planks of the deck and could see the water move beneath my feet. I could really get used to that! Perhaps Jason and I should move to the coast. Hmmm...

afternoon cocktails on the water
(i love how EVERYTHING in Southport is on the water)

would love to be sailing...

view from Old American - perfection

The perfect ending to a delightful day was our dinner at Mr. P's Bistro along the main street in Southport. It is a small, family owned restaurant (the owner's daughter was our server) and it has an incredible menu! After much deliberation, I decided on the crab-stuffed salmon with fried green tomatoes and horseradish roasted red potatoes. There are no words, really... I'll just say it was one of the best meals I've had in a really long time.


with two of my favorite people

Sunday morning we were on the road and headed back to Raleigh. It was an absolutely lovely weekend in Southport, and for anyone who hasn't been, I must insist you spend a weekend there. The town will certainly steal your heart! I can hardly wait to start planning my next visit =)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Strawberry Crumb Bars

Quite possibly, one of my favorite things about summer is all of the beautiful, fresh fruit available for my eating and baking pleasure. I like to pretend that it makes up for the sweltering heat we suffer through every year in North Carolina...

So, as I perused the produce section at the grocery store last week, I was delighted to notice that strawberries were on sale! I simply couldn't resist buying as many as I thought I could fit in our refrigerator. I absolutely love strawberries, and could (shamefully) sit down and eat a pound of them all by myself. However, I happen to be the only one in my house that loves them, so I had to find a good use for them before they went to waste.

After searching recipe books, websites, and blogs I stumbled upon a strawberry crumb bar recipe, courtesy of Can You Stay For Dinner.

strawberry crumb bars

Don't they look amazing?! Honestly, they taste even better than they look. This is a perfectly refreshing treat that can be served as a dessert or enjoyed in the morning with a nice cup of coffee. I imagine it would be equally delicious with many other types of fruit: blueberries, peaches, etc. I hope you try it, and enjoy it as much as I did! Happy baking!!

1 2/3 c sugar, divided
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
3 c AP flour
1 c butter, cold and diced into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp salt
Juice and zest of one lemon
5 c chopped fresh strawberries
1 tbs plus 2 tsp cornstarch

Preheat oven to 375 and line a 13x9 inch baking pan with aluminum foil, allowing for an overhang so that you can remove the bars easily from the pan. Coat foil with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, 3 cups flour, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest together in a large bowl. Use a fork to blend in the cold butter and egg. Once blended, the dough should be crumbly. Pat approximately half of the dough into your prepared pan.

In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, lemon juice, strawberries, and cornstarch. Evenly spread the strawberry mixture over the crust. Then crumble the remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Let the bars cool completely in the pan before cutting into squares.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cookie Dough Brownies

I recently realized that we had a package of brownie mix sitting in our pantry, just begging to be used. Since we don't usually keep sweets in our house for no good reason I was perplexed when I stumbled upon them, but decided to take it as an opportunity to experiment!

I began flipping through my trusty recipe box and found a cookie dough truffle recipe I had tried sometime last year. I thought to myself, I love cookie dough, and I love brownies, so why not?! I simply took the cookie dough recipe from the truffles and decided to make a sort of "filling" for the brownies. For the top chocolate layer I would typically use Baker's chocolate, but I had half a bag of mini chocolate chips leftover and it just made sense to use those instead. They worked perfectly.

My brother, sister, and brother-in-law kindly indulged me in taking on the jobs of taste testers, and they gave the brownies RAVE reviews! My husband even had a few bars, which is a big deal for those of you that know him... and his complete lack of a sweet tooth! :-) Enjoy and happy baking!

1 pkg fudge brownies
1 c butter, softened
1 c packed brown sugar
4 tbs milk
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c white sugar
2 c AP flour
2 c mini chocolate chips, divided
1 tbs Crisco

Begin by baking the brownies in a 13x9 inch dish according to the directions on the package. Once they are done baking, allow them to cool completely before moving on to the next step. If I'm really in a hurry, it helps to put them in the refrigerator or freezer for just a few minutes.

For the cookie dough filling, combine the butter, brown sugar, white sugar, milk, and vanilla together in a large bowl. Cream these 5 ingredients together, add the flour, and stir to combine. Once the flour is fully incorporated into the batter, add 1 cup of the mini chocolate chips and stir to combine them evenly into the batter. Spread the cookie dough mixture onto the cooled brownies and chill for 15 minutes.

For the chocolate topping, melt the remaining 1 cup mini chocolate chips with 1 tablespoon Crisco. If you're like me, you cringe at the very idea of using Crisco, but it will help keep the chocolate shiny and pretty! Try heating them together in the microwave for 30 seconds and then stir. If the chips don't melt together when stirred, continue heating in the microwave at 15 second increments. Once melted, spread over the cookie dough and chill until set. Then cut into bars and enjoy!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

I hope everyone had a happy and safe Fourth of July! Jason and I spent the holiday weekend visiting my family in Charlotte. It was such a treat to have everyone together for a long weekend of fun and celebration. First on the agenda was a visit to Mom's house where we enjoyed a delicious dinner on Friday evening, followed by a Saturday afternoon filled with lunch, shopping for fabric, and (my personal favorite) polishing some of mom's beautiful silver serving pieces! She has acquired quite a large collection over the years, and every time we get her silver out I fall in love with a new piece. =)

We spent the rest of the weekend at Dad & Jackie's house. On the agenda: Saturday evening cocktails at Selwyn Pub with the siblings and spouses, a Sunday afternoon belly flop contest for the men (yes, you read that right), followed by a yummy cookout courtesy of my Dad and Step mom, and then on to the National Whitewater Center for lunch and rafting on Monday. The whitewater center was REALLY neat (its where the US kayak/canoe Olympic teams train) and I can't wait to go back. Jason and I are dying try out their canopy tour! 

It was a fun-filled weekend and wouldn't have been complete without trying a new dessert recipe! I decided to make a Key Lime Pound Cake, and was quite pleased with how it turned out. I've posted the recipe below, along with some photos from the weekend!

bon bon spoon - my new favorite!

Me and Jason at Selywn Pub

my Sunday tanning and napping locale...
until I was interrupted by the boys =)

my brother-in-law, belly flopping

Key Lime Pound Cake - this cake is lovely and refreshing, and a great summer dessert option! It was just a little bit sweet, a little bit tart, but very velvety and super yummy. The only thing that disappointed me was finding that most of the glaze dripped onto the cake plate. I will probably make this cake again, and just play with different ways to ice it, so as to not lose most of the glaze. Enjoy and happy baking!

Cake Ingredients:
1 c butter, softened
1/2 c shortening
3 c sugar
6 large eggs
3 c all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lime zest
1/4 c fresh key lime juice

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, beat the butter and shortening together until creamy. Then, gradually add sugar (beating at medium speed) until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just blended together after each addition.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the milk. Be sure to begin and end with the flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Then, stir in the vanilla, lime zest, and key lime juice. Pour the batter into a greased and floured bundt cake pan, and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. *I checked on the cake at 1 hour and then every 10 minutes afterwards until it was done* Cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan to a wire rack or cake stand.

Prepare key lime glaze (recipe below) and immediately drizzle over the top and sides of cake. Cool completely.

Glaze Ingredients:
1 c powdered sugar
2 tbs key lime juice
1/2 tsp vanilla

Whisk all 3 ingredients together in a small bowl, and use immediately.

key limes, so much smaller than I expected!

ready for the oven

glazed and ready to eat