Friday Faves

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{this candle was a gift from my friend Amanda – isn’t it perfect?}

Would you believe this is B&B’s 100th post?  I know, it seems crazy. I have yet to receive a book deal (sigh), but I would like to think I’m getting a teensy bit better at wordpress, at least.  Baby steps. The blog has been so much fun for me, and even though I’m not always as consistent as I’d like to be (see, e.g., mid-May through mid-July 2014), it’s so much more fun to try a new recipe or restaurant when I know I get to share it with all of you.  And – confession time – sometimes I use Friday Faves as an excuse to buy things. Don’t tell.

This week has been spent waiting around for my new baby nephew to make his debut – today’s his due date, and we’re still waiting.  I’m predicting he comes today – cross your fingers (for my poor sister, who is R-E-A-D-Y to be done being pregnant).  If I’m wrong, my weekend will be filled with more waiting. Come on, Baby P!! In the meantime, some links and faves. Happy Friday!

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{delicious and healthy lunch from garden bar in portland – I wish someone would open this in seattle!}

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{cupcakes for my cousin clare’s bridal shower – didn’t they turn out so cute?
toppers here, papers here}

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{this mascara is amazing}

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{some of my favorite things from the diaper bag I put together for baby p}

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{including the most adorable honest company diapers!}

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How To: Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with frosted sugar cookies over the past few years – I think they are the sweetest, most adorable cookies when they look good, but try as I might, I’ve never been able to perfect those perfectly straight borders and smooth finishes. I’ve spent many a Sunday afternoon frosting pink and red Valentines Day hearts, green St. Patty’s Day shamrocks, pink and blue onesies for baby showers, and countless Christmas designs – and they never seem to turn out quite as well as I’d hoped.  Some of my prior attempts, and cookie inspirations, below:

Top to bottom, left: pink onesies for my friend Heather’s baby shower a couple years ago, cacti and chili peppers for my friend Karrie’s “fiesta” themed baby shower last summer, life preservers for my friend Courteney’s nautical themed baby shower last fall. Top right: the way I want my cookies to look someday – hippos for my friend Lindsay’s baby shower, made by the oh-so-talented Yoona Park; bottom right: when I just gave up and ordered cookies off of Etsy (link here – I would completely recommend this woman) for my friend Amanda’s shower (also nautical themed).  On a related note – I’m starting to think I need to come up with a new baby shower favor idea.  Also, one reason I can never quit social media, no matter how often I’m tempted – I was able to dig up all of these pics, which have long been deleted from my phone.

So, when my friend Kristen told me she had taken a sugar cookie decorating class, of course I begged her to come over and share some (all) of her secrets. Not realizing it would be over ninety degrees this weekend, we made plans to get together for a cookie decorating party/tutorial session on Sunday afternoon.  Kristen picked out two designs she thought would be good basics, and despite the sweltering heat, we got to work.

The most important part of a perfect sugar cookie (I’m going to go ahead and use the word perfect, although mine still have a ways to go, but “perfect” meaning what we’re all aspiring towards) is the consistency of the icing. The first time I used meringue powder (essentially dried egg whites in powdered form, it’s what makes the frosting dry solid), I followed the recipe on the tub, which makes a pretty thick frosting – and then assumed there was something wrong with the way I frosted.  As it turns out, it was the recipe’s fault, not mine – I just needed to add more water.  I used to always ask Yoona (of the perfect hippos, above) what her secret was, and when she told me to thin the frosting with water I assumed she was just trying to hide her actual secrets from me. Turns out she was telling the truth – that’s really all you have to do. 

There’s some debate about whether it’s best to use a thicker frosting to outline your cookies, and then a thinner frosting to flood, or rather to just use a medium-thick consistency for both.  There are a number of tutorials online that can explain the frosting better than I can – I like this one (I also used her cookie recipe) and this one. For the squares, we ended up with a consistency that was thick enough to hold a line when you outlined the shape of the cookie, but thin enough that it would “flood” the outline and spread into a smooth surface once flooded.

To do the pinwheel design, we thinned the frosting even more, so that the colors would bleed into the white and dry as one smooth finish. We outlined with the thicker white so that the circle would hold its shape, and then flooded the circle with the thinned white and immediately piped on the colored circles using thinned red and blue icing and with a size #2 tip on the pastry bag. I should have taken more pictures, but we were just so engrossed in our decorating that I forgot.  As soon as you’ve piped the colors on, use a toothpick to create a pinwheel, spiderweb, or “firework” shape. A better tutorial can be found here.

Kristen found this design online as well; for these, we just waited for the white to dry, and then with a thickened icing (just add more powdered sugar) and a #1 tip we drew the design on (Kristen, ever the perfectionist, used a stencil; I “freehanded” mine so they’re a little less uniform). Although my sprinkles look yellow, they are technically “gold” and were the best that I could find (shouldn’t one be able to find gold sprinkles when it’s fireworks season?!?) – I applied an edible gel with a toothpick (should have used a small paintbrush) once the red and blue frosting were dry, and then sprinkled the gold on top for a little added sparkle.

Thanks to Kristen, I have a whole new level of confidence in my royal icing skills, and thus a newfound enthusiasm for the next baby shower I get to host. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Fourth of July – and if you want to hire Kristen for your next party, let me know – she does amazing cakes and cupcakes too!

Friday Faves

So I just did a quick count, and it turns out this is my 13th Friday Faves post. That means I’ve come up with 65 things to be excited about in the last few months – the better you know me, the more you realize that’s a pretty big accomplishment for my sometimes-not-quite-so-excited little self. And they haven’t all been pictures of my Glassybaby or J.Crew sale finds, even!

Tomato plants on display at Met Market – I would kill for more sun on my deck (or better yet, a full-sun backyard) so I could plant a “salsa garden” like Martha Stewart.

I’ve been cooking a lot of freezer meals for my grandparents – baking mac and cheese in muffin tins is a fun alternative to a normal casserole dish, as you can just pop them out, wrap them in foil, and stick pre-portioned meals into the freezer – easier to store and to use. For bigger portions/appetites, this “jumbo” tin works great. I used this recipe (healthy-ish and always a big hit), but you could do anything you like. If anyone has any good ideas for freezer meals – I have a lot of new moms to bring dinner to as well as Grandma and Grandpa – I would love to hear them in the comments.

So, this is happening. I’m officially a Game of Thrones nerd. Please no one talk to me or try to put anything on my social calendar for awhile – I’ve got something like 5,000 pages to get through.

Has everyone discovered Rent the Runway yet? I wore this Nanette Lepore pink and purple party dress and House of Harlow bangle to my brother and soon-to-be-sister-in-law’s “fiesta” couples’ shower last weekend and both were big hits. And on Sunday morning, I just shoved them into a pre-paid envelope and dropped them off at UPS. So easy and so fun!

For anyone who has ever wondered if you can mix vodka and champagne: the answer is yes. Maybe this was already obvious to you, but I had never thought of it. This fun cocktail (I wish I could remember the name – something mure?) was vodka, champagne, blackberry liquor and lime – it’s like a high-end version of the beer-vodka-crystal light concoction we used to make in college, except served in a champagne flute rather than a cooler.  Delicious and classy – is it time for happy hour yet?

So, that’s 61-65. And now we’re that much closer to 5 pm (or whenever your weekend officially starts – I hope its sooner).  Wishing you all a fabulous Friday and a sunny weekend !

How To: Cake Pops

Way back in my early/mid-20s, I used to get really excited about wedding and baby showers. I would spend hours picking out invitations, working on menus, trying to think up creative new themes, etc. These days, when I usually have at least one or two a month (more and more as wedding season amps up), I pretty much have them down to a science – I only get excited to try new things when they’re for people I really love. My friend Molly is one of those people, so when her sister asked me to bring cake pops to her bridal shower last month, I did what any normal person would do: signed up for a cake pop making class.

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I took the class with my friend (and cake/cookie/now cake pop decorating guru) Kristen, and we had SO MUCH FUN. The woman who taught it runs her own little catering company, which she founded after quitting Corporate America one day and enrolling in pastry school (i.e. what I dream about doing every day).  If you’re interested in taking her class in Seattle, or if you want to hire her to make your cake pops for you (turns out they’re actually pretty hard), her info can be found here.

If you want to make your own without the class, hopefully this “tutorial” will help you.  You will need:

1. Cake (any kind you like)
2. Frosting (any kind you like)
3. Ice cream/cookie scoop
4. Cake pop sticks (available at Michaels/Joanne Fabrics, Sur la Table, and often at specialty grocery stores)
5. Good quality, tempered melting chocolate (available at specialty baking shops) – tempered chocolate will dry harder and shinier than untempered chocolate
6. Sprinkles and other cake pop decorations, including colored candy melts if desired
7. Truffle papers or mini cupcake papers, for the “ball down, stick up” version (optional)
8. Styrofoam or floral foam cube, wrapping paper or fabric, and ribbon to make a display stand for the “ball up, stick down” version (optional)

1.  Our teacher had the cakes pre-baked for us, and I believe a 9 x 13 cake makes about 18-24 pops, depending upon a variety of factors such as size of cake balls, amount of frosting you mix in, how much of the crust you cut off, density of the cake, etc. So, make a cake (just a boxed mix to start with is fine, you can always fancy it up later), and get some frosting ready (homemade or Betty Crocker).

2.  “Crumb” the cake – cut off the sides and bottom if you want (not necessary, but then there are no “crispy bits” in your cake balls) and tear the cake into tiny pieces, and then crumbs.  You’ll need to really grind the cake with your fingertips until its all tiny, fine crumbs, so depending on who will be eating your cake pops you may want to wear gloves.

3.  Once the cake is finely crumbed, begin to add frosting slowly – you can always add more frosting, but its usually harder to add more cake. Mix/knead, using your hands, until the cake/frosting mixture is the texture of play dough.

4.  Scoop cake into balls using a golf-ball sized ice cream/cookie scoop. Chill for 20-30 minutes if time allows (not necessary but I think it helps).

5.  Roll the balls between your palms until as perfectly round as possible. Chill again.

6.  Melt chocolate either in the microwave, or in a double boiler over simmering water (be careful not to burn the chocolate). Dip cake pop sticks in melted chocolate, then insert the sticks into chilled balls. If you are making your cake pops “stick up, ball down” – like in the photo at the top – you can insert the stick entirely through the ball. If you are making your pops “ball up, stick down” – like the ones in the picture below, or the ones you see at Starbucks – only insert the stick about 3/4 of the way into the ball. You may need to use your hands to gently reshape the balls a bit at this point. Chill again – the colder the cake balls are, the better they’ll hold up once dipped.

7.  Dip cake ball end in chocolate. It’s important to do this pretty gently, or the cake ball could fall off the stick. Gently shake excess chocolate off the ball, and set down to dry. This is where it’s a lot easier to make the “stick up” version, as its easier to let them dry with the ball down. With the “ball up” version, you’ll need to hold the cake pop horizontally over the bowl of chocolate and spin it so that the chocolate dries evenly and without drips (see photo at the bottom left below for evidence of dried drips).

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You can decorate the pops any way you like – chocolate drizzle, sprinkles, sanding sugar, candy flowers, etc. If you want to do the chocolate drizzle, let the first layer of chocolate dry and then pipe a drizzled layer on using a frosting bag. It can be cute to first dip the balls in white chocolate, and then drizzle with dark, or vice versa.

If you go the “ball up, stick down” route, you can make a display stand out of a styrofoam or floral foam cube. Just cover it with a cute fabric or wrapping paper and measure out holes for the sticks evenly. Molly’s wedding colors are aqua and orange so I incorporated those colors (I’m sure hers are more subdued versions) into both the cake pop decorations and the display stands.  Note:  I made about three dozen pops, and only 16 ended up being “ball up.”   It’s harder than it looks!  (Also I would recommend not starting a project like this later than 10 pm).

Just a couple adorable pics from my coffee date yesterday.  I mean honestly, who doesn’t love a cake pop?