Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Whopping Malted Milk Ball Brownies

There are brownies, and there are brownies, and, for the most part I can take them or leave them. That is until I flipped through the pages of a remarkable book by Connie Weis, Extreme Brownies, 50 Recipes for the Most Over the Top Treats Ever. Fifty. Over the top. And she is not kidding. This book can turn even the most disinterested brownie eater into one filled with passion. Get the mop ready, because turning the pages of this book, chock full of jump-off-the-page color photos, is going to make you drool, and turn you into a brownie chef extraordinaire.As a lover of malted milk balls, I was thrilled to see the recipe for Whopping Malted Milk Ball Brownies with their malted milk ball glaze, malted milk ball garnish, and milk chocolate drizzle.  One taste and I was in absolute heaven. Malted Milk Balls not your thing?  How about Peanut Butter Cup Brownies loaded with chunks of peanut butter cups in every bite? The book is as addicting as the brownies.  Even non-chocolate lovers (Is there such a thing?) will find something to love here.There are a baker's dozen recipes for Blondies -- think Caramel Crispie, White Chocolate Raspberry, and Lemon Mascarpone, to name but a few.  Weis, a confirmed chocoholic, asserts that extreme doesn't equal difficult, and she is right. The instructions are ample, clear, and concise, allowing even the novice cook to whip up a beautiful batch of eye-popping brownies. If brownies studded with extra ingredients does not appeal, try the PMS Brownies. This simple recipe yields a dense, sinfully chocolate brownie that will have your eyes rolling back into your head with pleasure.If you've ever had the experience of following a recipe exactly as written and still coming out with less than satisfactory results, the problem may lie in your choice of ingredients. Weis discusses ingredients at the beginning of the book, even going so far as to list brand names; I really appreciated that. There is a section on equipment necessary for creating the perfect brownie, as well as detailed steps on how to remove the uncut brownies from the pan in one slab to allow for bakery shop perfection when slicing, packaging, and shipping. This book is brownie perfection. 
Here is a sneak peek with this recipe for the Whopping Malted Milk Ball Brownies. Making these is a two-day project unless you start early. I didn't, and as they require 7-8 hours of refrigeration, made them over the course of a couple of days. They are a bit of work, but look how beautiful they are.  And the taste? Wonderful!  More like a decadent slice of dense cake, I plated these and served them with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. People were begging for more. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

The 5-Minute Centerpiece

I'm not gonna lie, I have a lot of dishes. I’ve had a passion for setting a pretty table ever since college when all I had was a card table with a bum leg, four mismatched place settings, and a piece of cloth.  I managed to turn it into an attractive setting, and with that I was off and running. I would gladly take other people's cast offs, single plates, anything I could find.  I loved the challenge of being able to create order out of chaos, I still do. So, I guess you could say that having a lot of dishes is my one indulgence. And because I indulge myself, I also tend to have a bit of a storage problem.  So, in the spirit of minimalizing (to a degree), I have been thinning out my supply of decorative pieces.  This can sometimes present a bit of a problem when putting a centerpiece together. Solutions for the present are often born from problems of the past.

A number of years ago, during a move, when I lost track of almost every Christmas decoration that I owned, I had no other choice but to get creative with organics - pine rope, cranberries, greenery, etc. Honestly, it was the most peaceful season ever because shopping for decorations in the produce department is just all kinds of easy. It also makes clean up a breeze, and the best part is that there is nothing to store. In addition, doing this kind of decorating every year means that you'll have something fresh and new each season and won't be pulling out the same old dusty pieces, wondering if they have another year of life in them (The answer is 
This fall centerpiece is an example of what I like to think of as organic decorating. The base is the same one that I used last week (and was actually a part of a floral piece that had seen better days years ago, so it was disassembled for parts).  I kept the moss in the bottom, and just piled up some organic seasonal produce from Melissa's. I love the pumpkin-shaped Butterkin squash with its pale color. The two of them provide a nice neutral background for baby pomegranates, quinces, and both real and faux grapes. I had a couple Alstroemeria left over from an arrangement, so tucked them in with the produce. Isn’t it lovely?
The next time you are wondering about what kind of centerpiece to use for your table, linger in the produce section of your local market and see what you can find. Pile things up in a bowl and sit back and wait for the compliments.  
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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Napkin Folding 101 - Bowtie

Yesterday I showed you the goodies that I bought on a recent shopping excursion, and here you see two of them in use in this darling Bowtie Napkin Fold. I love dressing up tables with pretty folds, but often lament the fact that I never get to use any of the rings in my ever-growing collection.  Thanks to this fold, found in what I consider to be the definitive book on napkin folding, Top 100 Step-by-Step Napkin Folds by Denise Vivaldo (more about that later in the week), I can have a pretty fold and use my napkin rings too.

 I’m going to give you a sneak peek of the book here with the pages illustrating this cute fold.  Come back later in the week for more photos and information that will have you champing at the bit to add this book to your collection. 

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Let's Go Shopping!

Autumn!  It's here!  Do you know what I like best about autumn? If you guessed the cooler temperatures, the crispness in the air, the changing leaves, the frost on the pumpkin, well, you're close. Yes, I do love all of these things, but what I really like is the shopping.  Not to confuse shopping with actually buying (although I did pick up an item or two), I just love seeing how the shops are transformed into fall both inside and out. Today I visited a number of my favorite places: Oma's Barn, The White Hare, and Pier One. 

I found something inviting at each place. Photography was a bit of a challenge considering how dark and atmospheric some of the rooms were, but I did my best to get a usable shot or two.  So, come along and join me.

First stop, Oma’s Barn.
Isn’t this a lovely display?  There are a number of ways in which to turn upon entering Oma’s; this is what you see if you head to the left.
Pumpkins and holiday d├ęcor were both inside and out. This whimsical little guy really got to me.  Too cute!
I saw this Western-style, half Christmas tree hanging on the wall as soon as I walked in the door.  It has little spurs and saddles, and sheriff stars all over it.  I’m not a western person, per se, but I am still smarting from the cancellation of Longmire, and thought it might be fun to have a Longmire tree this year.

Next stop, Pier One.

I thought it was time to put the wreath of white dogwood flowers away, so bought this one.  I wasn’t sure how it would look against the brown paint, but it has lots of sparkle and I really like it.
This chest of drawers that looks like a stack of suitcases really blew me away.  You know my penchant for suitcases, right?  And you know the trouble I have been having working on the coastal guest room.  The chest in that room would lend itself quite nicely to this type of treatment, and the whole suitcase thing would be fitting for a guest room.  Now to decide what colors to use considering the room is in sea tones. 
Here’s a close-up view of the hardware.

Last stop, The White Hare. 
Lots of darling Halloween displays, and some beautifully decorated rooms, some I could move right into.
 See the curved key napkin rings in this picture?  I fell in love with them and bought a set to go with some pumpkin colored napkins from Pier One.  I think I’ll be able to use these in a lot of table settings.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many beautiful lamps in one place as I have here.
I love the old world map look.
Speaking of which, I have no idea what these are, but I love them.  I can only imagine what Mr. O-P would say if I came home with this set and mounted them on the wall. 

Aside from the wreath, I ended up with these placemats and napkin rings from White Hare, and the napkins from Pier One.  Can’t wait to show you how I use them.  Happy shopping!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Toffee Pecan Pie

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that this woman eats a lot of desserts. Well, yes, I suppose that I do (as my thighs will attest), but it has long been a contention of mine that the meal isn't officially over until you've had dessert. I mean, how else would you know when to stop?  Simple logic.

That said, pie is not on my list of favorites.  But somehow, witchcraft I suppose, because I have no other explanation for it, I have taken a rather keen interest in pie. In the past month I have not only checked out every book on pie from the local library, but every one available at all of the branches, and have expanded to inter library loan. As a result, I have amassed a rather large collection of pie recipes.

Pecan pie is my dad's favorite, and as I was stopping by this week to drop off a variety of meals, I decided to give this recipe for Toffee Pecan Pie from Ms. American Pie: Buttery Good Pie Recipes and Bold Tales from the American Gothic House by Beth M. Howard a try. I think this is my new favorite pecan pie recipe, surpassing my love for
this one, bumping it into a close second.

I did make a few adjustments to the original recipe. The original made two pies. I only wanted one, so I cut it in half, and it came out perfectly. I also used unsalted butter, and a mixture of half dark and half light corn syrup.  It kept on the counter, covered with a tea towel, quite well for two days. In fact, I do think it was far better on day two than the day it was baked, so keep this in mind come Thanksgiving (read: make ahead!). Do yourself a favor and try this recipe, it is pecan pie heaven.

Toffee Pecan Pie
Adapted from Ms. American Pie

Your favorite recipe for a single crust pie

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/3 cup light corn syrup
3 extra-large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whole pecans
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup Heath Bar bits (I used Bits o Brickle)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll out your pie dough and place it into the bottom and up the sides of a 10" pie pan.  Poke bottom and around the sides with a fork. Place in freezer while you prepare the filling.

In a saucepan over medium to low heat, melt butter. Add brown sugar, salt, and corn syrups, continuing to stir until heated through.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs until blended. Whisk a small amount of the hot mixture into the eggs. Continue to whisk while you add a bit more (say, a tablespoon) two more times. This tempers the eggs so they don't curdle when you pour them into the hot mixture. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan, whisking constantly, and continue to cook, stirring well, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.

Combine hot mixture with nuts and toffee bar bits and pour into pie shell.

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until set.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"On Safari" Table Setting

My head is always so full of table setting ideas that I hardly know which one to choose. Sometimes I feel like a little girl preparing to host a tea party, lining up plastic teacups and saucers in preparation. It may take me a week or more to decide which plates to use. I will have the dining table filled with stacks of plates, mugs, cups, bowls, and glassware, and then switch things around to see what suits me at the time. 
I wasn't quite ready for a fully fall table, so found inspiration in these placemats that I recently bought from One King's Lane. 

I love the subtle colors, the text, and the giraffes, well knowing just how perfect they would be with my safari glassware. 

Of course, while buying the placemats, I also spotted these salt and pepper shakers that I had to have as well.  Yes, a little overindulgent, I admit, but I go weak at the knees when shopping for tableware, and think I must have lost consciousness for a moment right around the time I clicked add to cart.  You have to admit, they are darned cute, and perfect for this simple table. 
The napkin fold is the Bishop's Mitre, a tutorial for which can be found here. 
The plates have been used numerous times before, but not in this combination, making things appear fresh and new. The bamboo-edged plates were originally used here. The polka dot-edged plates may surprise you when you see that they were first used here.
I am a huge fan of glassware, so often use a variety. I wanted a bit of color, so chose the bubble glassware as water glasses. These were a wedding gift and came from one of our favorite local haunts, Botanicals on the Park, a truly stylish gift, floral, and home decor shop that, sadly, closed a number of years ago. 
The safari glasses were a gift from my parents years ago. 

I don't often toss a salad at the table, but love the wooden tossers with painted safari print on the handles, so just plunked them down as a part of the centerpiece and I rather like it. Just goes to show that if you do something with intention, people are willing to accept it as style...or maybe eccentricity, but I'm fine with it either way. 
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