Saturday, March 31, 2012

Recipe: Red Velvet White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yeah, I know-- they aren't exactly red. That's what happens when you don't plan ahead, and you only have a teeny tiny amount of red food coloring.
All the other ingredients are there, though. The important ones, like chocolate, butter and sugar.
I had a cookie or cake craving, and I didn't want the refrigerated break-n-bake sugar cookies in the fridge. I wanted chocolate. Or richness. And I wanted to actually make something from scratch. This Saturday morning has been filled with cleaning and laundry, so I wanted to do something relaxing. Baking is therapeutic to me. SO, I started digging through my recipes, trying to find something I had all the ingredients for. Strawberry cream cheese cupcakes--- nope, no strawberries. Knock-you-naked brownies--- nope, no caramel. Salted caramel 6-layer chocolate cake--- nope, again, no caramel. What about my old stand-by, boyfriend chocolate cake? Nope--- no buttermilk.
SO, this is what I came up with. I love red velvet. And I love white chocolate chip cookies, so this intrigued me.
I gathered my ingredients:

Pulled up this recipe on the ipad:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cocoa powder
Red food coloring liquid or gel
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
And started mixing:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.
2. In the bowl of your standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and both sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. (I do not have a paddle on my stand mixer, so I used a mixture of my hand mixer, and a spatula.)
3. Add the food coloring gel or liquid until you reach the desired color. Mine was slightly red. Maybe even pink.

4. Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and add the egg and vanilla, mixing well until combined.
5. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder, mixing until thoroughly combined. I was completely out of food coloring at this point, so when my mixture turned brown, I decided they would just be brown velvet cookies. :)
6. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the white chocolate chips until incorporated.
7. Using a cookie dough scoop or a tablespoon, drop the dough into mounds about two inches apart from one another. Lightly flatten each cookie dough mound with your fingers or the back of a spoon.

8. Bake until slightly golden and crisp around the edges, about 10-12 minutes. Cool on pan for about 1 minute, and cool on wire rack.

My review:
I ate one cookie while they were still warm. Usually this is the absolute best time to eat a from-scratch cookie, in my opinion. And, I didn't like it. I was VERY disappointed. BUT, after they cooled, I sampled another one, and was pleasantly surprised. I think these are actually better once they've cooled!
You know what made them even better?

What have you been baking lately? Have an awesome recipe that's on the must-try list? What do you do for relaxation while doing household chores?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Enjoying the Great Outdoors

There's nothing I enjoy more than just sitting outside on the swing, soaking up the sunshine. We don't have the most amazing view, or the prettiest scenery in our back yard, but there's just something about sitting in the quiet, surrounded by nature. I love it. (Until someone drives by on a 4-wheeler, or the mosquitoes attack, but hey, right now, it's quiet.)
I've been working a lot since we bought the house, trying to make the outdoor spaces look a little nicer. I'm no gardener--- you might say I have a black thumb. Or brown thumb. Whatever color plants and flowers are when they die. Or when they're overrun with weeds. That being said, it's not so easy to spruce things up outdoors when you are on a very limited budget, and don't want to use plants/flowers/greenery to decorate.
I love the look of nicely landscaped yards, but I know absolutely nothing about that, and honestly, I'd rather soak up the sun than work at planting flowers. Here's the beautifully landscaped terribly overgrown hedges in our back yard.

They're actually kind of nice like that, because they give us a little privacy from the neighbors. I wish they looked like this:

But, I have no idea how to make that happen, and they're serving their purpose right now.
I've tried to make the back patio an ideal place for grilling out/eating dinner/hanging out, and the front porch a good place to sit and have coffee or read. That's what I had imagined we'd use those two spaces for the most.
I wanted them to both be colorful/simple/comfortable, and they had to fit into our budget. I've already shared the wooden spool tables with you, so sorry to bore you with that again--- but here's the view of the front porch.

If I add anything out here, I'll probably add some hummingbird feeders hanging in front of the rocking chairs, on the porch rails, and MAYBE a wind chime or two. I love the sound of the wooden chimes, but not so much the metal ones. I'd love to have these lined up:

Maybe I can turn this into a DIY project?
And I like these chimes:

Maybe another DIY project?
Out back, we've added a swing, the grill, the larger of the spool tables, and a bistro set that belongs to my mother-in-law.

The grill is just on the other side of the black table-- just couldn't get too close to the hedges, lest they attack me. :)
And something I haven't mentioned before, I put a red color-wash on the spool out back, and distressed it.

Oh... and that flower? It's an attempt to grow something. We'll see how that turns out. It's been alive for 3 days so far. It lives there, because I noticed that the wasp that lives in our back yard decided he wanted to move into this table via the hole on top. I couldn't let that happen. :)
Today, when I came out back to have a seat at the table, I almost sat on this guy:

Gotta love the great outdoors.
I've bought some patio lights for out back, because it's insanely dark out there, and our patio light only lights up about 2 inches. I just haven't figured out how to hang them.
I envision something like this:

Minus the awesome furniture and fire pit. And lamp. I'm pretty convinced that Daniel and I can build one of these, but I haven't been able to convince Daniel of that yet. And since these are pretty darn expensive to have built, or to buy, this won't be happening in the near future.
I also wonder if that's the ideal solution, because we live in mosquitoville, USA, and now that we've had warm weather for a couple weeks, they attack right around the time I go outside, so it seriously limits the time we can enjoy our outdoor spaces.
I thought about putting mosquito netting around something like that, but I don't know, maybe that's tacky. It doesn't matter--we don't have a pergola anyway! Maybe I should just wear something like this to go outside and enjoy my patio:

We could have a closet full of them for when people come over. What do you think? Stylish?
Have you been doing some awesome upgrades in your outdoor space? Do you have any tips for keeping my marigold alive? Is it humanly possible to keep the mosquitos from attacking without putting on layers of sticky bug spray?

Monday, March 26, 2012

5 Spring Dresses-- My picks

I just read this article entitled "5 Spring Dresses To Wear Right Now."  I can get on board with a couple of these, but I figured I'd put together my own "5 dresses" list.  When it's warm out, I want to wear nothing but skirts/dresses, but I have such a hard time finding dresses that are comfy, cool and work appropriate.  I try to buy dresses that can be made appropriate for work by just adding a jacket/sweater and accessories.  (In other words, dresses that aren't too short.)
I just don't have it in my budget to buy both summer/beach/casual dresses and work-only dresses, so they have to meet all of my needs.
  1.  LBD.  WHY is it so hard to find the perfect LBD?  I think you need a summer/casual LBD as well as a dressier version, but I'll stick with the casual dresses here.
  2. Colorblock.  I love this trend, when it's done right.  I think it looks best when using only 2-3 colors, or different shades of the same color.
  3. Dots.   I am beyond excited to see an abundance of polka dots in stores now.    I don't want to look like I'm 8 years old with the polka dots, but there are some dresses that don't look like a costume. I just don't want the dress to be too short (I'm not in my twenties anymore), or too long (hello, grandma).
  4. Shirt Dress.  These are by far the easiest for me to dress up for work.  And they're the most covered-up typically, so it's easier to go without that extra layer when all my jackets/sweaters are dirty.  Or when it's about 8 million degrees outside.
  5. Maxi Dress.  These are great on cooler spring/summer nights.  Or when you don't want to be careful of how you sit.   Or if you need a mosquito shield on your legs.  Or when you still have your winter skin tone, and don't want to blind people with your whiteness.  The list goes on.

Victoria's Secret, $69.50
Target, $24.99

eShakti, $59.50 

Forever21, $28.90

Nordstrom, $138

Urban Outfitters, $69
Nordstrom, $138
Banana Republic, $140
Express, $79.90
J Crew, $365

Mod Cloth, $49.99
Gap, $64.95
Old Navy, $27.50 (sale)
Arden B., $69
Madewell, $150

Anthropologie, $98

Nordstrom, $278
White House | Black Market, $128
J. Crew, $235
Victoria's Secret, $58

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bananas Foster Bread

Sometimes I have really good intentions. Like this week, I fully intended on getting up early enough each morning to make myself a delicious smoothie for breakfast. I had all of the supplies on hand--- it was a perfect plan. BUT, reality set in, I'm just not a morning person, and it just made no sense to get up early to make a smoothie, when I could just hit snooze about 10 times, then grab a granola bar on the way out the door.
Plan B: Pack bananas in my lunch every day. I didn't get it for breakfast, but it'll be a perfect mid-afternoon snack. Enter easter candy. Those pastel peanut m&m's and peanut butter eggs were too hard to pass up, so the lone banana would stay in my lunch bag for the next day.
SO, now it's Thursday, and I have about 4 almost black bananas.

I am super-picky about bananas, so I will only eat them if they are the perfect consistency. Not too green, not too ripe. So, these are past the window of eating for me. I thought about making cupcakes, but I do NOT need to have a big bowl of cream cheese frosting in front of me---- like I mentioned in the previous post, I'll be shopping for a bathing suit soon.

I looked around online, and found this recipe.

I absolutely LOVE bananas foster, and thought this sounded at least semi-healthy, so I figured it was worth a try.

I loosely followed the recipe, because of course, I didn't have all of the exact ingredients on hand. Don't worry.... it usually works out when I substitute ingredients. :)

Here's my version of the recipe:

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana
1 cup packed brown sugar, divided
6 tablespoons butter, melted and divided
1/4 cup coconut rum cream
1/3 cup almond milk
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed meal
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Cooking spray
1/3 cup powdered sugar

First, I mashed the banana (I used 2 bananas). I then mixed the banana, 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 5 tablespoons of butter in a non-stick skillet, over medium heat. I heated it just until it started to bubble up.

Meanwhile, I mixed my dry ingredients in a bowl.

After heating up the banana mixture, and cooling it for about 5 minutes (while I ate my dinner--- a delicious english muffin, with eggs & cheese), I poured the banana mixture into a mixing bowl with 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of brown sugar and the almond milk. Mix until blended well.

Add the dry ingredients. (I added a little extra cinnamon, because I heard it helps you lose weight.) I'm sure that's not true, especially when eating an entire loaf of banana bread, but I love cinnamon, so I'll believe it.

Mix just until blended well.

Mixture will be slightly lumpy--- because of the imperfectly mashed bananas, and the flaxseed.

Spray loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray, pour mixture into pan & bake at 350 for 40 minutes. (The original recipe called for 1 hour, but I found that mine didn't take as long, probably because of the recipe change-up I did.) Cook until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

I then cooled the bread in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes.

While the bread cooled a little, I made the glaze. Powdered sugar, the remaining butter & rum cream.

I mixed that until it was blended pretty well, then put the cake directly on the wire rack. I anticipated a little mess with this, so I put paper towels under the cooling rack. Then, drizzle the boozy goodness onto the banana bread.

Mine looked like this when I finished.

See? The paper towels were a good call.

The finished product was absolutely delicious. When I make this again, I'll probably make it the exact same way I did tonight, because the texture was perfect. The bread was moist and not too sweet. The glaze added the perfect amount of sweetness, but didn't overpower the bread.

What have you been experimenting with lately? Do you have a great recipe that uses bananas? Want some banana bread? :)