Thursday, December 30, 2010

I'm still on island time.

Physically, I'm just about all caught up.  My circadian clock is back on Eastern Standard Time and my cold, lifeless feet are finally adjusting to the 50 degree drop.

Mentally, on the other hand...


I'm sorry for being all absent-y the past couple of weeks.  I promise to get back on track after the holiday (and hangover) has passed.

Have a safe and happy New Year's!  Oh, and if you're going out to celebrate and your area has a Sober Ride program, be a peach and program that number into your phone, mmkay?

Next week:  the Garden Isle, TBSTTW's one year anniversary and a pretty sweet giveaway.  See you guys in 2011.  Exes and ohs and stuff.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Vacation.

With this bonus check, I'm putting in a swimming pool!  And if there's enough left over, I'm gonna fly you all down here to help us dedicate it. 

I can't swim, Clark.

Today is my mom's last day of work.  For, like...ever.  Today is also the last time she'll ever have to make that chilly, slippery walk from the McPherson Square metro stop to her office building which makes me, her constantly and overly concerned daughter, happy.

To kick off her retirement, my parents, 3 sisters, 3 bros-in-law, 1 niece, 4 nephews and I are going to have our own Griswold Family Christmas in Kauai.  While I'm going to miss the crap out of Berry White (new job = no time off), I think with enough sun and mai tais, I'll manage (M3.)

That being said, it'll be a ghost town around here until I get back.  Feel free to stop by anytime and putz around - my site is your site.  The key is hidden in the fake giant slug near the crepe myrtle tree and there's plenty of beer in the fridge.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Food gifts rule.

They do.

Money a little snug?  Give cookies.
Want to something a little more personal?  Give cookies.
Last minute shopper?  Give cookies.  Slacker.

I know, you already have a ton of bookmarked, printed and dogeared recipes to rifle through this holiday season.  But if you have room for one more in your gift-making spree, here are some of my "make again" favorites that were saved from a violent Fargo-style death by shredder.

And my heart, my love, my everything:

My favorite for the 2nd year in a row, after it knocked raspberry thumbprints out of the top spot for Dankest Christmas Cookie.

Happy baking.  Happy gift-giving.  Happy holidays.  Just happy everything, man.

P.S.  I've made public jokes at its expense but if I received a Shake Weight in my stocking, I would be overjoyed.  I would shake the shit out of that thing.  Maybe even cancel my gym membership.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sugared Cinema: The Holiday (2006)

 Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend.  You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.

You're so right.  You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god's sake!  Arthur, I've been going to a therapist for three years and she's never explained anything to me that well.  That was brilliant.  Brutal, but brilliant. 

Yes, I did it.  I jumped from one holiday sap story to another the very next week.  'Tis the season to get sentimental over feel-good movies, right?  That and I have a Titanic-sized girl crush on Kate Winslet.

If you're a "judge by the cover" film watcher, I'd understand if The Holiday didn't earn an automatic spot on your Must See list.  But if you've already seen it, then you know that Jack Black breaks out of his comedic comfort zone and is actually pretty charming. And that Jude Law almost makes you believe that he's not the jerko that he is IRL (or so I hear.)

(We already know that Cameron Diaz plays the cute card well because she's tall, thin and has good hair.)

There's a particularly sweet scene involving hot chocolate, two adorable little ladies and Mr. Napkinhead.

Every time I see it, I crave hot chocolate.  And every time I crave it, I'm usually out of powdered cocoa packets.  It never fails and at the same time is a huge fail.  Think about that one.

In a no-holds-barred attempt at quashing my chocolate-y urges (ew?), I wanted to seek out the richest, most guilt-ridden hot chocolate recipe on the planet.  And I found it in the Max Brenner cookbook, Chocolate: A Love Story

Wannabe French Hot Chocolate
Recipe by Max Brenner

Here's what you'll need:

1 Tablespoon cornstarch, sifted
1 3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
7 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips

Oh and hey - the batteries in my hot shoe flash peaced out early in the evening so these pics are...well, you'll see.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and about 1/4 cup of the milk until the cornstarch dissolves.  Whisk in the sugar and the egg yolk.

Pour a little over 1/2 of the milk into a saucepan set over low heat.  Bring it to a simmer.

Whisk some of the warm milk into the egg mixture to temper it then pour the mixture back into the saucepan.  

Continue to whisk for a few minutes or until the mixture comes to a full boil (it should thicken by this point, almost like a thin custard.)  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Strain the custard through a mesh sieve set over a heatproof bowl.

Bring the remaining milk to a boil (I used the same saucepan.)  While it heats up, pour the chocolate over the custard.

Pour the hot milk over the chocolate and let it sit and soften for a moment.  Now you can stir.

Divide between 2-3 mugs or pour into one humongous reindeer mug.  Top with whipped cream, cinnamon, marshmallows, anything you like.

This hot chocolate is no joke.  The custard base gives it a rich, almost soup-like consistency and it's toothachingly chocolate-y, which I'm alllll about.  Feel free to cut down on some of the sugar or use bittersweet chocolate instead.  But please, for the love of Rose DeWitt Bukater, don't let the season go by without making this.

Mr. Napkinhead agrees.


Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

They tried to make me go to rehab.

When I first started getting into cake decorating, I was a slave to the Wilton aisle at the craft store.  On my lunch break or after work, I'd drive over to the store (strapped with a 40% off coupon that I Googled and printed off the internet) and start loading up.  My arm would shovel full shelves-worth of piping tips and gel colorings into my basket.  I was like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, sans terrible crewneck sweatshirt + polo shirt combo.

Eventually, I was stocked with most of the essentials and I pretty much nipped the habit.  I cut my visits down from every other day to about once every other week.  I recently hit up Michael's for the first time in a long time.  I wanted to browse the holiday items and replenish a few things but was staying away from any and all impulse buys.

Then I saw these.

And Duff's "Hey lady.  Buy my stuff." expression.
And I relapsed.

(I would part with many treasures/appendages to work for Charm City Cakes.  That bakery's ipod must have the best playlist ever.)

Anyway, texture tiles!  Each pack comes with two patterns.  I bought the wood grain and brick.

And they're super easy to use.

Plop some fondant on top of the sheet, roll it out and peel it off.

The wood pattern:

I mixed brown gel coloring with a little vodka and used a small brush to paint the wood to give it that fresh, Murphy's Oil polish look.

Great if you're making:

a rustic dollcabin
a Biblical ark
a pirate ship
a replica of the "Whip It" set

I loooove the brick pattern.  Fun way to channel your inner Banksy.

Also great if you're making:

an old firehouse
 your elementary school
a fondant interpretation of a famous Commodores' song

Hypothetically speaking, if I were a baking enthusiast in your family, I know I would want these in my stocking.  Yessiree man.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sugared Cinema: Love Actually (2003)

What's that?
It's a cinnamon stick, sir.

Actually, I really can't wait.

Oh, you won't regret it, sir.

Wanna bet?

'Tis but the work of a moment.  There we go.  Almost finished.
Almost finished?  What else can there be?  Are you gonna dip it in yogurt?  Cover it with chocolate buttons? 

Because you didn't see that one coming.  A quote from the Rick-Man. 

I had always heard good things about Love Actually but I, being the overly picky rom-com viewer that I am, didn't get around to watching it until last Christmas.  My mom bought the soundtrack when it first came out (Sunday Morning is her jam) and would play it when she was cleaning the home that her 23 year-old grown ass daughter still occupied at the time.  Looking at the tracklist, I didn't realize then that it had a few Christmas covers.  In fact, I never once associated the film with the holidays.  Of course, all of that has changed.  From now on, you'll find Love Actually at the top of my queue every December until Netflix becomes obsolete or I buy the dvd, whatever comes first.

Who do you have to screw around here to get a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit?

Natalie, apparently.

The first time I heard Prime Minister Hugh Grant mention chocolate biscuits, my salivary glands went ballistic.  I didn't know what these "chocolate biscuits" were but I immediately knew that I needed them in my life/belly.  A quick visit to Wikipedia informed me that biscuits (or digestives, as they're commonly known as) are "a semi-sweet biscuit popular in the United Kingdom."

And they look like this:

And a chocolate biscuit is simply a digestive with chocolate on one side:

It just got better and better.

I found a recipe for chocolate biscuits on the blog, The Obsessive Gardener.  This girl was relentless in her quest for the perfect digestive and I bow to her thoroughness.  In fact, that's how I'm going to address her, should we ever meet in person or cyberspace.  Her Thoroughness.  Because these turned out PERFECT.

Chocolate Biscuits (or Digestives)
Recipe from The Obsessive Gardener
Makes a little over a dozen biscuits

Here's what you'll need:

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup wheat bran*
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
5 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 Tablespoons butter, diced
1 Tablespoon Crisco
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 Tablespoons half and half
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted

*I couldn't find wheat bran.  So I pulverized 1/4 cup of rolled oats to smithereens and used that instead.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, wheat bran, baking powder, baking soda and cream of tartar.  Mix well.

Add the brown sugar and mix it well again.

Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter and Crisco until the crumbs are pea-sized.

Add the vanilla extract and half and half.  If you don't keep half and half stocked in the fridge, a combo of milk and heavy cream works, too.

Use the pastry blender to fully work the liquids into the dough.  Form the dough into a ball, wrap it snugly with plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

On parchment paper or a floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/8-inch thickness.  If your dough starts to crack, don't sweat it.  Just use your hands to patch it up and re-roll.

Use a 2-1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut out your biscuits.

Transfer to your cookie sheet and prick with a fork.  Slide them in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden.  These biscuits are supposed to be crispy so if you're usually tempted to take your cookies out early to maintain some chewiness, fight the urge.

Let them cool on a rack while you melt the chocolate chips.

Slather chocolate on one side of the cooled biscuits.

Crunchy, oat-y, mildly sweet and topped with a layer of chocolate.  A simple, delicious treat.

Go on, Prime Minister.  Show us your Pointer Sisters dance while we destroy these chocolate biscuits.

Have a great weekend, you saucy minxes.