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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Fudgy Brownies

Oh yes, let there be chocolate.  These ooey, gooey, chocolate brownies were perfect for satisfying my chocolate sweet tooth.  Personally, I find it hard to top store bought boxed brownies.  They usually turn out perfect and fudgy - just the way I like it.  These brownies would rival any store-bought mix.  Another thing I like about this recipe? It makes a nice, big batch of brownies! No puny square cake pan here.  The 9 x 13 pan makes a batch perfect to bring to a school, work, or serve at a party, and they're still the perfect thickness.

Chocolate Brownies
From: Martha Stewart with my comments when necessary
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, (optional but I highly recommend them!)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
8 ounces best-quality unsweetened chocolate
5 large eggs
3 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso (I didn't have instant espresso on hand so I just used some really strong coffee).
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 2/3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spread chopped walnuts on a baking pan; toast until fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer nuts to a bowl to cool.
Raise oven temperature to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan; set aside.
Combine chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl or the top of a double boiler. Set over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate mixture has melted. Remove from heat; set aside.

Chocolate mixture
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs, sugar, and espresso at high speed, 10 minutes (you read that right.  It makes it nice and airy). Reduce speed to low, and add melted-chocolate mixture and the vanilla; beat until combined. Slowly add flour and salt; beat just until incorporated. Fold in chocolate chips and toasted walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan

Chocolate chips and walnuts ready to be folded in.
Bake until edges are dry but center is still soft, about 35 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into 3-inch squares, and store in an airtight container up to 2 days.


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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dancing jacket

The jacket itself doesn't dance, but on my list of things to make is a jacket to go with my Highland dance costume.  Most beginning dancers start out with a vest and blouse but as I'll be moving into the Premier group this year (yikes!), it's time to start looking into a jacket.

My dance sister wearing her jacket and executing a lovely leap.

The design is very specific and the rules about how it should look are very strict.  I have to use certain size buttons, certain braiding, cotton velvet, etc.  The cotton velvet has been a challenge to find anywhere but through Highland dance costume/supply companies.  I found some that is fairly local but I'm still waiting for it to arrive in the mail.  In the meantime, I started to draft the muslin for my jacket.

Normally I'm too lazy for muslin, but the pattern sizing will need to be pretty specific and I have to be able to wear my heavy, bulky kilt under the jacket, and ensure that the jacket doesn't ride up while I'm dancing. My mom said she would help me with the final construction, but I wanted to at least have the muslin done when she comes over.  I also thought it would be a good, more challenging sewing project to tackle.

Jacket front

I put together the partial muslin.  I think it has good overlap in the front.  I will be installing a zipper and will also lose some of the overlap when I add the lining.  The zipper shouldn't be seen at all - the two flaps need to meet together perfectly in the middle with the zipper hidden underneath.  Oh and did I mention that there's boning in the front of the jacket? Yikes! I've never worked with it before so another learning lesson there.

The lining, by the way, is a fun black print with kitties all over it.  No one will see it (or at least, the judge won't) so it's just a nice way to get something different into the jacket.

Jacket back
Once I have the velvet and my mom comes over to help me fit it and work on the final assembly, I may need to assess the length at the bottom points.  It might need to be just a little longer considering it's going to lose a little of the length when the lining and velvet are sewn together.

Overall an exciting, but slightly daunting project.  I can't wait for the velvet to arrive so I can get to work on actually putting it together.  I was hoping to have it done for an upcoming competition in June, but I think that will be pushing it and I want it done right.

What's the most challenging project that you've worked on?  Did you have help in putting it together or were you able to figure it out on your own?  My mom and some friends have helped me one a few projects but they've usually been dance costume related as it was before I really started sewing and because I want to make sure that they're absolutely perfect.  I feel like the clothing I make up for daily wear is allowed to have some 'design enhancements.'

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Home Sweet...

Whew! It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks! As I mentioned before, I haven't had a lot of time to do my normal crafts.  Work has been all consuming, I've had dance competitions, then dance injuries, birthday's and amongst all of this trying to get out to enjoy the fantastic spring weather.

As promised, I want to share my finished cross stitch project.  My mother-in-law recently purchased a new home and has been working around the clock at getting her new place remodeled and ready for her to move in.  When she first walked into the place with my husband, they dubbed the home her 'hobbit home.' She had just moved to California from Texas and things were a bit smaller, and the place definitely needed a little TLC.  So throughout the whole process we fondly called the place her hobbit home.

I wanted to make her a nice housewarming present, and while flipping through a recent cross stitch magazine, I found some nice housewarming themed designs.  An idea popped into my head and I started crafting a personalized design for her.

Home Sweet Hobbit Home

I think the final design turned out great!  She seems to love it and instantly hung it up as the first thing on her bare walls.  

Hanging in her new home

Do you have any favorite housewarming gift ideas?  I have a few friends who are doing some remodeling projects this summer and have been ready to embark on my next gift idea.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Revel Bars

This is the start of a chocolate kick. I realized that most of the treats I've been making recently haven't really featured any fudgy goods.  

Before I stumbled upon this recipe, I'd never heard of revel bars.  After doing some research, it seems like they primarily consist of an oatmeal cookie base, a layer of fudge, and crumbled cookie on top. Not too shabby, eh?

I made these for a couple of immediate occasions as they called for half a can of condensed milk. This was a good excuse to double up the recipe so that I could just use the full can.  I brought these to a work picnic, and to a dance competition that ended with a BBQ.  At both occasions they got rave reviews and lots of compliments.  This recipe is a keeper, and so easy to make!

Chocolate Revel Bars

1/2 cup butter, room temperature, divided
1 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract, divided
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups quick cooking oatmeal (not instant)
7 oz sweetened condensed milk (1/2 can)
1 1/2 cups dark or bittersweet chocolate chips, divided (I used bittersweet for the chocolate layer and semi-sweet for the cookie crumb top)
1/2 cup toasted and salted pecans, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9×9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and oatmeal.  
In a large bowl, cream together 7 tbsp butter (reserve remaining tablespoon) with brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Blend in flour mixture until well incorporated.

In a small, microwave safe bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk with 1 cup chocolate chips and reserved 1 tbsp butter. Melt on high heat in 40 second intervals, stirring frequently, until mixture is smooth. Stir in remaining 1 tsp vanilla extract.

The dough pressed in for the cookie base

Chocolate layer spread over the oatmeal base

Take 1 1/2 cups of the cookie dough mixture and press it into an even layer on the bottom of the preapred baking pan. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly on top of the cookie layer.

Mixture for the crumbly top

Stir remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips and toasted pecans into remaining cookie dough. Break dough into small chunks and sprinkle evenly over entire chocolate layer. Chocolate layer will still be partially exposed.

Ready for the oven

Bake for 25 minutes, or until top is lightly browned. Chocolate will still look “wet.”
Cool completely in the pan before slicing.

Ready to serve

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Knitting and Stitching

Apologies for the recent silence! I've been swamped for the last couple of weeks with birthdays, competitions, and work.  This has left very little time to even step foot in my craft room and get any meaningful sewing done.  I have been working on some other little projects though.

My friend recently celebrated her birthday so we drove to Southern California to visit and make a quick trip to Disneyland.  She's a teacher and I've had this little knitting project on the books for her for a while, I could just never get myself to finish it.  I wanted to make her some teacher washcloths.  I had originally planned for four, but in the end only managed to make three in time.  The problem? I made the first two, no problem, but then I took a little break before making the last one.  Well, apparently I duplicated my efforts... and made the same design twice.  So she received one school bus and two ABC's.  Oops.  It's the thought that counts, right?

The blue and green are ABC, the yellow is the school bus.  It's a little hard to see, but if you tilt your head sideways, it should become clearer.
I don't know if you've ever used knit washcloths, but they're suprisingly great.  I admit when I first received one, I had no idea what to do with it. I use this to wash my face? No, they're great for everything! In particular, I like to use them for doing dishes.  When you're done with it, just throw it in the washing machine for the next time you want to use it.  And the best part, is that if you have a washcloth with a design, the design become more prominent the more you use it and wash it.

In addition to the washcloths, I have been making my mother-in-law a housewarming gift/mother's day present for her new home.  Here's a sneak peek of the design so far:

More on this project later in the week.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Toffee Almond Chocolate Chip Cookies

I can't believe that I haven't written about these cookies before.  As a matter of fact, if I have, the first person to find it gets a prize!  No seriously, these cookies are delicious.  I stumbled across the recipe on the Two Peas and Their Pod blog.  As I may have mentioned before (several hundred times), I love toffee.  It's up there with sea salt and caramel for me.  So making these cookies was an obvious choice.  However, the first time I made them, I had no idea what 'almond paste' was.  I scoured the bakery aisle at my grocery store looking for it, just assuming that was the section it would be stored in.  Just as I had given up hope, I saw the tubular box of almond paste tucked away by the chocolate chips.  This time when I made the cookies, I was prepared.  I sent the hubby out to buy the marzipan for my sheep cupcakes, knowing the almond paste would be right beside it on the shelf.  What a pity if it fell into the cart and I had to make these again...

Almond paste, ready to use
So here I was with a tube of almond paste ready to make these toffee cookies again.  They whip up just like any other batch of chocolate chip cookies, but with this delicious ingredient.  Another bonus to these cookies is the toffee to chocolate ratio.  I'm not a big fan of super chocolate-y cookies, so if you prefer more, I would swap out some of the toffee for more chocolate chips.  The current ratio is just right for the consistency of the batter, so you don't want to add too many fillings or you'll be left with little batter to make up the actual cookie.

Enough rambling, on to the recipe!


Chocolate Chip Almond Toffee Cookies
From Two Peas and Their Pod

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 ounces almond paste
2  large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chopped toffee (homemade, Skor, or Heath bar are all fine)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars together with the beater blade for about two minutes.  Add the almond paste in pieces and mix until well combined. Add in eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.

Now that is batter that makes you want to lick the spoon

4.  Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients slowly mix until dry ingredients disappear.  Stir in toffee and chocolate chips. Scoop dough onto prepared  baking sheet with a medium cookie scoop.  Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are golden brown around the outside.  Let cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Ready for the oven. I used a small cookie dough scoop for even sizing
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

This post will be participating in the following Linky parties:

Friday, May 13, 2011

And the winner is...

Faye!  Faye Lewis said:

Hey, would you please enter me in your contest too? I'd love that book. I'm a google follower, will join on facebook and also mention on my blog - don't know a thing about tweeting though. 
Thanks to everyone for participating and congratulations to Faye!  I'm close to reaching the next milestone of 100 followers so spread the word and there will be another giveaway soon! 
P.S. Thanks for bearing with the radio silence this week.  Work has been crazy and I've been playing catch-up with crafting from our little getaway this past weekend.  More coming soon!


Saturday, May 07, 2011

Sweet Treats Saturday: Pecan Praline Rum Cake

Inspired by our recent trip to Savannah, Georgia, I started researching recipes for a praline cake.  What I found was a praline loaf that I converted into a bundt pan recipe.

Making the pralines to crumble up within the cake was really easy.  I had never made them before, but found if I just stayed attentive at the stove, there was nothing to worry about.  Just follow the directions in the recipe and you'll be fine.  I made them first, then started onto the cake batter.  As soon as I was ready to pour the cake batter into the pan, the pralines were cool and ready to be crumbled in.

The recipe requires a lot of eggs. I let mine sit out to reach room temperature though the recipe didn't necessarily call for room temperature eggs.  I find having all of the ingredients at room temperature helps my baked goods turn out consistently right.

On to the recipe!

Pecan Praline Cake
From Emeril Lagasse
Slight modifications made by me.

Creamy Pralines:

    * 1 cup granulated sugar
    * 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
    * 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
    * 2 tablespoons butter
    * Pinch salt
    * 1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
    * 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    * 1 1/2 cups pecan pieces

In a heavy saucepan, over medium heat, combine the sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, salt and condensed milk. With a wooden spoon, stir until the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook, stirring, until smooth and light brown, about 8 minutes.

Sugar mixture cooking

Add the vanilla and pecans and continue to cook, stirring, until the mixture reaches 234 to 240 degrees F. on a candy thermometer or the soft ball stage, that is, when a bit dropped into cold water forms a soft ball that flattens. Remove from the heat and drop by the spoonful onto waxed paper or a silpat. Let cool. Remove from the paper with a thin knife.

The pralines don't have to look perfect - you're just going to crumble them up for the cake.



    * 4 sticks (1 pound butter) minus 1 heaping tablespoon, cut into chips and softened
    * 1 pound sugar (about 2 1/2 cups)
    * 10 eggs, separated
    * 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    * 1 pound all-purpose flour (about 3 1/2 cups)
    * 1 teaspoon baking powder
    * Pinch salt
    * 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
    * 1 cup crumbled Creamy Pralines, recipe above
    * 2 tablespoons dark rum


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour a bundt pan, using the heaping tablespoon of the butter. (Make sure to properly grease your pan. This recipe is sticky due to the candied pecans!)

Cream the remaining butter and the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer on low speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat together the egg yolks with the vanilla until light and frothy. With the electric mixer on medium-low, gradually add the egg yolk mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and mix for about 4 minutes.

In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the electric mixer on medium speed, alternately add the flour mixture, a third at a time, and the egg whites, a third at a time, to the butter and egg mixture, beating for 2 minutes between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as you mix. Add the lemon zest during the last 2 minutes of mixing.

Crumbled pralines ready to be mixed in

Crumble the pralines and add to the batter. Also add the rum. Mix until ingredients are incorporated.  Pour batter into your bundt pan.  Bake for approximately one hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

The cake can be stored by wrapping them in waxed paper, then plastic wrap, then in foil. It does not need to be refrigerated.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Southern Travels

I've had a busy work week which hasn't left me a lot of time to work on my sewing projects.  Instead, I wanted I would share some pictures of our recent trip to Savannah, Georgia.

I have family in Savannah and so the hubby and I try to make it out there at least once a year.  It's one of our favorite places in the U.S... so much so that we got married there back in 2004.  Even though we travel there so frequently, we still  like to play tourist.  I think you can take it for granted when you go there so frequently so we tried to see things that we haven't seen before or at least in a few years.

This year, my mission was to see some alligators.  We seem to have been going in the winter recently, so they're always hibernating.  We were not too lucky this year though, as we went to the wildlife reserve only to find that the main trail was closed until June.  Oh well.  So we took a little walk down one of the side trails and were able to spot one lone gator.

If you look really closely, you can see the gator in the middle of the picture.

We also went to the Bonaventure Cemetery.  You may know this cemetery from the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. One of Savannah's big tourist draws.  Well, the statue from the cover of the book is no longer there (it's in a museum) but there are some beautiful, old headstones of old Savannah families. 

You can also see Moon River from the cemetery.  That song has a special place in my heart and it was our first dance at our wedding.

Moon River.... Wider than a mile...
A trip to Savannah deserves a visit to River Street.

View of the bridge from River Street

It's filled with lots of touristy shops and restaurants, but it also has the ultimate Southern treat... River Street Sweets!


Bear claws...

And pralines, oh my!

And best of all, we had breakfast on Tybee Island at the Breakfast Club. Probably the best place in the area for a greasy spoon meal.  I love them for their pecan waffles, but from what I've been told, you can't really go wrong with anything on the menu.

Yup. That is butter pooling up in the waffle grid.

I hope you enjoyed the photos! Check in tomorrow for a special Sweet Treat Saturday.  I made praline pecan cake to get me in a Southern cookin' kinda mood.

Savannah's Waving Girl

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Giveaway Reminder

Hey everyone! Don't forget that I'm doing a 75 follower giveaway.  Right now you have a great chance of being the winner, so submit your comment to the giveaway post for a chance to win!

Personal indulgence...

So I treated myself earlier this week with an order from Paper Source.  They had a couple of things I'd had my eye on and after some comparison shopping, I found that they were the best deal. 

The first item was a One Line a Day 5 year diary.  I had stumbled upon the blog, Her Five Year Diary a couple of months ago and thought it was such a great idea to have a short, daily diary.  I've always loved the idea of keeping one but was just never able to commit to long posts about my deep dark secrets.  Since starting to blog, I've found how therapeutic these little journaling 'sessions' can be.  I'll be keeping this little book on my bedside table to scribble my daily records.

The second thing came about because of the royal wedding frenzy.  I love the phrase 'Keep Calm and Carry On' and had been applying it to everything in life (Keep Calm and Have a Cup of Tea, Keep Calm and Dance On, etc) so when I was surfing through the site after watching the wedding, I found a nice mug to house a cup of tea during my crazy work days.

I love the little crown detail inside!

What about you? How often do you give in to random shopping whims?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The shawl that finally ends

Front of the shawl

I finally finished my Damson shawl! I've been knitting this shawl for over a year. Ok, that's kind of a lie.  I mean, it's been hogging my needles for a year, but I was so over it that I put it down for about eight months.  I decided it was finally time to complete it as I was only about 20 rows from completion.  It just so happened that they were rows of 300 stitches and more, interspersed with an entire row of purling between each pattern row. Uggghhh!

Back of the shawl

I forced myself to sit down over the course of a few nights and whipped out (ok, well, slowly churned out) the end of the shawl.  The final bind off row was over 500 stitches and was pure torture, but it was so worth it when it was completed! I blocked the shawl into place and within 24 hours was wearing it in this perfect California Spring weather.



This was my first knit shawl, and like childbirth (well, from what I've been told) I forgot the pain this inflicted and instantly cast on another shawl.  Not the same pattern, and I swear it seems like it should be less painful... right? Uh oh, what have I got myself into...

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