Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Orange Cointreau Cupcakes

Omilordy, you guys. I made these cupcakes forever ago, but through a combination of technical difficulties and life difficulties, they didn't make it to the blog until today!

I've had the craving for orange cointreau cupcakes for a long time; I purchased the Cointreau months ago and then it just didn't happen. So when Sara came to visit, I decided it was time to try my hand at the alcoholic treats.

I decided to make classic no-fuss Duncan Hines white cupcakes and focus my efforts on making this Orange Cointreau frosting.

We had a bit of a comedy of errors. We didn't have enough confectioners' sugar, so Sean had to run out for more. Then we dumped it in with the butter too quickly and had to separate them all over again. Then I forgot to separate the eggs, so we had to go with the whole egg cake recipe. It was a mess. But the taste? That was anything but a mess.

My lovely cupcakes, as photographed by Sara.

Sara deserves mad props for doing most of the heavy lifting with the icing. She zested the orange while I cut the butter into small pieces and she also did a lot of the blending.

For our first buttercream icing, we were pretty impressed. I think it was a little drippy, but hopefully with practice, I'll get the consistency just right. The recipe produced enough icing for two boxes' worth of cupcakes.

The iced cupcakes, ready to eat! The icing was perfect...sweet, but zesty. These would be great cupcakes for a summer picnic.

Monday, April 26, 2010

J.Crew Jericho Tote

Wow. J. Crew's new leather handbags just made my heart swoon something serious.

This Jericho tote is $258 (!!!), but boy don't those pockets just look perfect? I have a beautiful leather bag and as much as I love it, I'd kill for some better pockets. All my stuff is always getting buried in there!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Best v.20

Could Alison Sudol from A Fine Frenzy be any more gorgeous? Here, she models the new black label from the masters of hair accessories, Ban.do.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

LOST in Translation V.12


It's getting a little wild and a little strange on LOST these days. Yet again, I wasn't able to watch with full focus because of a little thing called work, but I think I can at least say it was nice to see the Sideways world converging with the Island world so much.

The castaways are getting thrown together in the Sideways world, facing issues that plagued them in the Island world head-on. And there seems to be a certain degree of recognition; how else to explain Sun's horror when she saw Locke at the hospital? And the easy repartee between Kate and Sawyer?

There were a lot of things about this episode that sucked, too. Desmond in the Sideways world seems to be acting like a Gabriel-type figure, shepherding people into each other's lives (he delivered Locke to Jack practically on a platter, did he not?) and for some reason, that makes me feel uneasy. It doesn't suit him; one of the most lovable things about Desmond is that he doth protest too much any time someone tries to pin a "destiny" on him. I'm curious how he got from point A (his conversation with Faraday) to point B (basically forcing Claire, the most trusting person ever, to go meet his lawyer).

I also didn't like the relative ease with which our castaways agreed to ditch Locke and the Island, steal a boat and head out. C'mon, really? After all this, they still just want to get back? That's ridiculous. They should just give up and take what the Island dishes them at this point.

I'm also tired of Zombie Sayid.

I'm also tired of Weirdo Claire.

Sigh. Can you sense my fatigue? I'm trying to keep the faith this will be tied up in a nice way.

There were some great redeeming moments to the episode, though. First and foremost, the revelation that the Man in Black WAS masquerading as people's lost loved ones. I raised my arms in victory because I called that forever ago. Except....wait a sec...I thought Michael told us last week that some of them are caught in the "in-between." Or was that Locke? ARGH. SO CONFUSED.

I also liked the little wink at longtime viewers when Jack arrived at the hospital to find out Locke's injury was the same as the problem he encountered in his first difficult spinal surgery, the one when he learned to count to five and calm down. But the moment when he saw Locke's face...he really jolted and I don't think that was just with recognition. I think he knew, in his gut, he HAS to save this man.

Which leads me to my new theory: is it feasible, remotely, that by saving Sideways Locke, Jack can somehow stop the Man in Black from wreaking whatever havoc he's planning? I don't really know how that would work, but it's something to ponder.

I also really appreciated seeing Jin and Sun reunited, but did not appreciate Zoe being a bitch. "The deal is off" my foot! Is Widmore convinced that by taking the time to talk to the MIB, the castaways are all lost causes? (ha...LOST causes.)

Which leads me to the scariest thing ever: the moment when Fake Locke appeared before bleary eyed Jack, freshly recovering from his latest blast survival (he's a pro by now), and said, "You're with me now." That sounded pretty definitive, didn't it? After all, as Claire said, Jack let him talk to him.

On another note, I'd like to tell you how you can help transform the young women of Kazakhstan into independent leaders in their communities. My friend Corinne, who you may remember is in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, is the coordinator of Camp Glow, an overnight camp dedicated to teaching college-aged women how to take charge.

Camp Glow still needs $1100 in fundraising and any amount you can share goes a long way. If you would like to donate, click here. To learn more about the program, watch this cute video Corinne made!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Meatball Sliders

Why are the most delicious things the grossest to make?

Srsly. Smitten Kitchen's version of meatball sliders are super flavorful and delicious, but I seriously was almost gagging through the whole process.

What you see above is a mixture of ground beef, veal and pork, panko bread crumbs, an egg and a yolk, parsley and maybe something I'm forgetting now. It's distracting to look at that pile of gross, honestly.

I plunged my hands into the goopy mess, a potent and potentially dangerous mix of raw meat and eggs (WASH YOUR HANDS SO MUCH!!) and rolled the meat mush into meatballs, which really, scarily resembled Meatwad of "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" fame.

I stacked them on a plate to the side and tried not to look at them too much.

I then fried them in batches in vegetable oil and PEOPLE this is where I have to tell you that I patted myself on the back for not ralphing all over my kitchen. It gets grosser. Scroll down if you dare.

DAAAAAAAAAAYYYY-UMMMMNNNN. That is some horrifying mess right there. And I found out the hard way that turning homemade mega meatballs is actually trickier than turning pancakes.

While I was trying to avert my eyes from my pile of meat, I instructed Sean to spread a mix of garlic powder and butter on mini potato roll buns and toast them. This is a crucial step; you need the structure the toasting provides to keep the mush in place.

I also had a saucepan full of marinara simmering on the stove while I assembled the sandwiches.

And voila! I topped mine with cheese, but I wish I'd had basil leaves because that would have been some kind of wonderful.


So how were they? I'll be honest: they were awesome. They were more flavorful than any frozen meatball and the mini slider format is one I dearly love because I never feel like I'm eating too much even thought I am.

I think this would be a great dish to make for a party where people won't be super dressed up, but just like some home-cooked food for noshing. The only thing is you have to make sure it's all ready to go; you don't want your guests subjected to the horrors of a pan covered in meat muck.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pioneer Woman's Cajun Chicken Pasta

We recently took a small step for Sean, a giant step for our relationship.

Sean ... wait for it ... tried a cream sauce!!!!!

I know, I know...it's not like he's Anthony Bourdain all of a sudden. But if you knew the depths of his dislike for cream sauces, or really any sauces, you'd know how huge it was when he said he would try Pioneer Woman's Cajun Chicken Pasta.

I won't try to do a better job of explaining how to make this dish than Ree, whose photography and writing is really worth a click over. But enjoy the pictures and know that you, too, can concur your mate's fears!

If I had done anything differently, I would have seasoned the chicken more. My cajun seasoning contained salt, so I was very hesitant to give it a good shake.

Cook the chicken up at a really high heat and set it aside.

I suck at slicing tomatoes. Just wanted to show you my lack of skillz and also, how awful my knives are.

This dish involves a lot of butter. And cream. This is where I should say something about how I then ran on the treadmill but that is bullshit. I then watched television.

Saute the peppers, onions and garlic in the buttery oily goodness, then remove, placing on the same plate as the chicken.

I got this adorable chardonnay juice box for cooking purposes, which is a great option if you don't consume wine fast enough in your house.

Add the wine, plus chicken broth, to the pot.

Then add cream and let it bubble up and reduce.

Then toss your veggies and chicken in with the cream and watch the juices mix like magic.

Then, if you're like me, get some of that excess cream out of there in hopes your mate won't recoil with horror.

Toss in the pasta and let the sauce thicken.

And voila!

Sean thought it was "okay." That's a start, at least.

Monday, April 19, 2010

I Love Lamp.

Do you ever have a vision in your mind for exactly what you want, but it seems like no one sells it? Let me tell you the story of a girl and her love for lamps.

That's how I was feeling about lamps for our living room. I've been tired of my mismatched college-era lamps for a while now, and I also didn't have a spare one for the left side of the room, where Sean usually sits. I tried reading over there once and seriously, I could have used a coal miner's hat.

I had a vision of robin's egg blue ceramic lamps, similar to these old favorites of mine by J.Schatz or these pricey lovelies from Crate and Barrel. I didn't want to shell out $100 a pop for lamps because...well just because. That seems insane.

I reluctantly registered for the Crate and Barrel lamps, knowing no one would ever buy us two of them and resigned myself to the idea that I'd probably just have to give up the dream.

But then! I saw two robin's egg blue lamps at Marshall's, at $29.99 a pop. OH HAPPY DAY. I brought them home to roost and now I just gaze at them and think about how, like the rug in "The Big Lebowski," they really pull the room together.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Best v.19

Today seems like a good day for a rowboat. One of my favorite late spring/summer activities is paddleboating, but we haven't made it out to the park yet this year. I've love to plan a little boating party at the park; would any of you like to come?
  • Amazing collages unlike any I've ever seen!
  • If you love adorable kitten videos, say goodbye to your free time. That site will steal all of it.
  • Keeping track of where your money goes can be fun.
  • If the idea of buying a horribly dated home scares you, remember it has potential.
  • Tomorrow is my five-year dating anniversary and my anniversary of getting engaged! Read all about it here and here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Queso Blanco

On Wednesday, I tried to accomplish the impossible and I failed. And succeeded. AT THE SAME TIME.

I tried to make homemade queso blanco like they serve at almost every Mexican restaurant, including my fave, Plaza Azteca.

I fashioned a double-boiler and assembled my ingredients.

I found a Mexican-mix shredded white cheese at the supermarket similar to that described in the recipe; I used a cup of that, plus a can of green chiles, 1/4 cup of heavy cream, diced onions and cumin.

I dumped the whole thing, with some cilantro, in the bowl and waited for the magic to happen.

And I ended up with this. Which was good, but NOT the deliciously decadent cheese dip they sell at Plaza.

I checked around the internets and found most recipes were similar to this one, which tells me two things:
  1. Plaza's cheese dip is not "queso blanco" in the traditional sense.
  2. I need a different type of cheese.
So the search continues for the perfect cheese. I know you can buy this dip pre-made, but I'd love to be able to come at least close to replicating it. In the meantime, the dip I made was still delicious and quickly devoured by our guests, so you should give it a whirl.

EDIT: I should note that I have tried the store-bought kind and it's perfect. I just wanted to see if I could do it.

LOST in Translation V.11

I'm not even going to bother with my requisite spoiler warning. If you haven't watched it yet, I'm sorry, ya'll.

I wanna say something upfront: I love Hurley. I do. But I felt like, if anything, Tuesday's episode made me angry with the writers. SO many things in this episode seemed like the conclusion paragraph of a hastily written research paper: "In conclusion, that's why this happened and how people felt about it and it was a big deal."

I mean, could the revelation about the whispers have felt any more anticlimactic? Things I hated about that moment:
  • It involved Michael, possibly my least favorite character on the show ever.
  • It didn't really explain why the whispers always came right before Others popped up. Were they warnings?
  • Can the other "in-betweens" see each other? Are they talking to each other? Is this like Thornton Wilder's "heaven" in "Our Town"?
  • Why can Hurley see them now if he couldn't before? He's always been able to see dead people, so how come this was a magic moment? Did he not see dead people on the island before? What changed?
But anyways. Let's recap the big stuff, shall we?
  • Wowza, there goes Ilana in classic Arzt fashion, circa season one. I'm really disappointed we didn't get more about her backstory. Was she as old as she looked? How was she recruited? That felt very unfinished. What I did like about it was Ben's theory: maybe when the Island is finished with people, it's really finished.
  • Hurley = The New Locke? Hurley started acting kind of exactly like Locke at the end of season 2 when he started sabotaging any and all plans to get off the island. It's intriguing when we consider that we still aren't sure who's good and who's bad, Jacob or the MiB? Is Jacob sending the dead to have post-mortem chats with Hurley, or are they coming of their own accord? Who the freak knows.
  • Blow Up the Plane vs. Don't Do It: I can't seem to give a crap about whether they blow up the plane or not. I feel like the Man in Black would have left the island a long time ago if all he needed was a plane.
  • The Well: I liked the tidbit about the well, where Flocke told Desmond that the people who built it were trying to figure out why their compasses would spin. I did NOT like the part where he shoved Desmond in the well, but at least we know he lives on to next week.
  • Desmond vs. Locke vs. Jack: WTF, Sideways Desmond? Why are you running over pseudo-happy Locke? Oy. But I liked that kind of delicious moment between Jack and Locke when they met again. It's hard to remember they hadn't seen each other since before Jack became a grizzly bear alcoholic who insisted Locke was right and THEY HAD TO GO BACK, KATE!!! But of course, this isn't Locke, and in a lot of ways, this isn't the same Jack. It's hard to think of them as the same old foes, since one of them, we know, is a little more powerful than mere mortals.
I'm still with them and I still trust this story will unfold as intended. I just thought this episode was super weak. Sure, it was nice to see Hurley finally get his mack on with Libby. But it didn't have the delicious peal-back-the-onion-layers that the Richard and Desmond episodes had. Sigh.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Wedding Planning Update: Chairs are dumb!

Chairs at weddings have become the bane of my existence. But I'm happy to report the lovely supportive women over at A Practical Wedding offered their support on my rant, which Meg kindly posted today.

Read and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Joan Didion, I like your style

For no reason, I spent 10 minutes of today Googling images of Joan Didion. She has that very California cool, Joni Mitchell-meets-Christiane Amanpour kind of look and I'm digging it at the moment. I'm coming to appreciate the '70s for that effortless chic look. It looks easy, but it's oh-so-very hard.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Balsamic Honey Pork Medallions

Sean and I have quite different opinions about coming up with menus. Here's a typical conversation:
Me: What do you want for dinner?
Sean: I don't know. What do you want?
Me: I just asked you!
Sean: Um....pork?
Me: Pork chops or pork medallions?
Sean: Whichever.
Me: How do you think the pork medallions should be served? What kind of marinade or sauce?
Sean: Why don't you just cook it?

UGH. So exhausting.

When this happened recently, I did a quick google search and came up with Balsamic Honey Pork Medallions.

I like balsamic and I like honey, so that sounded good to me.

First, I had Sean cut a tenderloin into medallions to fry up in the pan. NOTE: I have learned after doing this twice that I like medallions better when the pork is roasted or cook whole in some way. I'm kinda over this pan-fry thing. But it gets the job done.

Fry up your pork bits in canola oil, but don't go all the way. These bad boys are just going right into the oven to cook a little longer.

While Sean did that, I assembled the ingredients of my marinade: balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, rosemary, honey, olive oil and a dollop of dijon mustard.

Stir it together! Then we placed the pork medallions in a glass dish in a single layer, covered with the marinade.

Cook a little longer, until that mess is done. Try not to overcook like I always, always do.

I thought broccoli would be a good accompaniment and we had some frozen broccoli hiding in the back of the freezer. I wanted to steam it, but Sean was like, "Let me handle this" and microwaved it to oblivion. Srsly...babies could eat that mess. But we were able to salvage some pieces from the muck.

As usual, my pork was on the dry side. Story of my life. The flavor was good, but I would have gone a little lighter with the balsamic vinegar; it overpowered EVERYTHING.

The marinade was, however, great to dip the broccoli in. So all was not lost.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wedding Craftapalooza

How was your weekend, ya'll? I had the best weekend crafting with my good friend Sara, who is a crafting goddess. Sara not only took crafting courses in college, but is a children's librarian who spends her days folding, cutting and glittering with youngins.

I've driven her crazy sending her insane e-mails with wildly divergent ideas for what I wanted to craft, what I wanted things to look like and what my vision was for the wedding. I knew I wanted to craft but that was the only clear vision. So this weekend we settled in, pared down, streamlined and came away with about half of the crafting completed and clear. Whew.

At the beginning of the process, I wanted to make: paper flower lanterns, tissue poms, paper heart garlands, a decoupaged escort display, stamped party favor bags, papier mache birds for a cake topper and so. much. other. crap.

We cemented our vision and here's what we came away with:
  • Paper heart garlands, made with our matching heart punches and a stack of Twilight books (bwahahaha. I've never relished destroying something more!)
  • Newspaper-decoupaged stars and glitter stars to hang in two of the trees, including the one under which we'll be married
  • Tissue pom garlands to hang over the dance floor
  • Hand-stamped (or Ashleigh-stamped, in all reality) muslin favor bags
Here's some pics from the weekend's work:

Stamped muslin bags, with copper, black and red ink.

A rose-gold glitter star.

Sara working on her newspaper star (made from my hometown paper where my Daddy works!).

Ashleigh stamping away! Ashleigh did ALL 100-some bags by herself in like, an hour and a half or two hours. It was amazing. I am indebted to you foreva!

Crafting Central!

Oh! I forgot the best part! For more than half of the supplies, I spent NOTHING because I found an ancient Michael's gift card for $50 in an old purse and my bill ended up coming to $48.79. So if you have a tendency to lose gift cards, go checking your purses! You never know what you'll find.