Category: ideas

Linzer tart cupcakes.

Ohhh, Valentine’s Day is here. Time for hearts. Hearts everywhere. Heart-shaped everything! And of course, here that includes… cupcakes.

I go batty for holidays ’round these here parts, in case you didn’t know notice.

These particular little cupcakes are inspired by Linzer tarts, or Linzer tortes. In America, you low them as the cookies with a hole cut out of the top piece… its filled with a red or pink colored jam or jelly and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. However in Austria those are considered Linzer sablés (Linzer Augen or “linzer eyes”). They’re also a riff on the cupcakes I posted last year; which were chocolate cupcakes filled with pink frosting, all in a heart-shape.

Linzer tart cupcakes for Valentine's Day.

There are a few ways of doing this neat little heart-shaped hole trick, but I just use the method I find easiest: I push the cutter down into the middle of the completely cooled (preferably refrigerated for a few hours) cupcake. After some wiggling, the heart-shaped piece should pop out when you remove the cookie cutter. Another way: cut the top of the cupcake off, add a layer of jam, then cut the hole out of the top and stick it back on.

Linzer tart cupcakes filled with strawberry jam.

Whatever way you choose, the end result is adorable. And sweet.

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Spinning a web of sweetness.

BOO!

 

Not sure what your day is going to consist of come the 31st, but mine? Candy, candy, and more candy. Maybe candy corn vodka. Maybe trick-or-treat Halloween candy cupcakes. Maybe none of the above- maybe just handfuls upon handfuls of chocolates & bubble gum & sugar. These cupcakes here are just an early treat!

Oh and pizza. There will most likely be pizza.

See, I’m determined to enjoy this Halloween. Being that it’s my favorite holiday, I am DETERMINED to not let anything ruin it this year. So determined, I made these JUST to snack on in anticipation! Last year my Halloween was ruined when that bitch Sandy blew in here & wrecked everything- knocking out my power for a week. So this year I am sitting on my ass, eating junk with my TV playing all the horror movies I want… but anyway, let me get back to the cakes.

Easy spiderweb cupcakes for Halloween!I know, the cake stand rocks…

 

These cupcakes are just vanilla cakes with vanilla frosting, topped with black “spiderwebs” I made from Wilton Candy Melts. See? You don’t have to go crazy or over the top to make cute Halloween cupcakes!

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DIY: Creepy candy specimen jars!

DIY’d jars are all over the place. Well, jars are all over the place in & of themselves, however lately it seems people are gluing all kinds of crazy shit on top of jar lids & then painting them… with adorable results. I personally glued some knobs on jars last year & made some super cute candy jars. But some other things I’ve seen: little dinosaurs, bunnies, cats, etc. All of these little knick-knacks just glued onto the lids, then painted, then the lids are screwed back on to make a completely different looking candy jar/thread holder/toy container/etc.

So why not capitalize on it for Halloween?

Easy DIY Halloween specimen jars (or candy jars).

I decided there was no reason not to. So, ladies & gentlemen, here are my creepy little “candy specimen” jars for Halloween! You can fill them with candy, with plastic eyeballs, with rubber snakes, with whatever you want. Use them as part of your “laboratory” for a Halloween party.

Oh- & It’d be lame if I didn’t acknowledge that A Pretty Cool Life, It All Started With Paint & Joy the Baker inspired these.

Creepy DIY specimen jars for Halloween!

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Internet inspiration: cupcake liner storage.

There are a couple of things I’ve learned over the past few years that I honestly never would have thought of nor realized if it weren’t for this wonderful thing we call the internet. They aren’t really important things, not for the most part, but I thought I’d share them with you just the same.

  • The internet taught me that not everyone who CAN make a website SHOULD. Yellow text is just never acceptable.
  • Pinterest taught me that there are a shit ton of alfredo chicken pasta recipes & enchilada recipes- everyone’s husband LOVES them & all of them are “top rated”! (are they really, though?)
  • Pinterest also taught me most people do not buy Ball® jars to preserve food. Silly me.
  • Facebook has taught me the most unattractive people love to post the most photos of themselves. Usually in “da club.” Usually drinking. Usually wearing inappropriate clothing for their weight/age/etc.
  • Facebook also taught me that people who didn’t like me in HS want to be my friend now, after not seeing or speaking to me for 13 years. Strange isn’t it?
  • Instagram taught me I really, really, really love to see what other people are eating & drinking. Maybe too much.
  • Instagram also taught me that there are chicks who do that “duck face” thing seriously, not joking. Woops.
  • Twitter has taught me that I like people better when they’re limited to only 140 characters.
  • Twitter also taught me that people still prefer to follow rather than lead. (whoa- DEEP THOUGHTS)
  • Blogs taught me that everyone thinks they’re funny, clever, and either a professional photographer, makeup artist or chef.
  • Blogs also taught me that most of them are none of the above.

But one of the most important things I’ve learned- aside from the fact that there are a lot of really cool people out there, who sadly, do not live anywhere near me- is that anything you want to do, or things you’ve never dreamed of doing (particularly involving the re-use of every day household items)… the instructions on how to do these things are all right at your fingertips.

And so I made these.

DIY cupcake liner storage that's display worthy! Made using mason jars & chalkboard paint.My chalkboard-writing skills only apply to larger pieces… obviously…

I have a problem with pretty cupcake liners. I always have, really, but before I baked it wasn’t as big of an issue. Before I baked, I’d see them in a store & say “Oh how cute!” then I’d promptly pass them by and pick up a frozen pizza & a bag of Totino’s pizza rolls. But once I started using them it became a thing. I bought so many I had nowhere to actually put them. For awhile, I had some out on a few cupcake & cake stands, but they were getting dirty & dusty from being in the middle of all that kitchen-witchery. So then I bought plastic shoeboxes at Bed Bath & Beyond. And I filled those up real quick, but they got overloaded and in the process began crinkling & eventually ruining the shape of my beautiful liners. Wahhh.

What’s a girl to do?

(Psst… I’m sharing this with you because if you’re here reading this, you might very well have the same problem.)

So one day I was browsing Pinterest, as one is wont to do, and I happened upon this. Genius. Why didn’t I think of that?

Well actually, I had, but I thought of it using Ball jars; and you see, based on what jars I had at my disposal I realized that regular mouth jars aren’t wide enough, and aside from that… pint jars are a bit too shallow and don’t hold as many as you’d like. But this time it just so happens that when I saw that pin, I had literally just finished cleaning out & de-labeling two 25 oz. Victoria pasta sauce jars. And as I scrubbed them I was wondering what exactly I was going to use them for. I had already made candy jars out of old sauce jars, so I didn’t want to do that again (a girl can only have so many candy jars).

Cupcake liner storage jars!

And so there I am, washing these jars & seeing this pin on Pinterest. And like I said, I had all these pretty liners… all wasted by being hidden away… it just made sense. So I made some cupcake liner storage jars out of ‘em! The Victoria jars are the PERFECT SIZE for this. Basically, you need a jar with a mouth opening of around 3″ in order to accommodate the liners comfortably. And it should be a pint & a half at least in order to make it worthwhile- you really can’t fit many in a pint jar. It just so happens the Victoria jars are 6″ high (not including lid) with a 3″ wide mouth. Wide mouth quart-sized Ball or Kerr jars would probably work as well.

The thing with these is that there really isn’t any “tutorial” involved- just get jars that the liners fit into without getting squished, and do whatever you want with them. I painted the lids with black Martha Stewart acrylic chalkboard paint (2 coats), and put chalkboard label stickers on the front. This way, if you wanted to split the liners according to holiday or color, use the labels or chalkboard lids to mark them; i.e. “Christmas”, “pink”, “stripes”, etc. The chalkboard paint comes in just about every color you can imagine, so you can match your appliances, your KitchenAid, your kitchen, you name it.

Done. Counter-ready, aesthetically pleasing cupcake liner storage, at your service!

 

*And if you wanna make some more “Pinterest Projects”, head on over to textdrivebys.com and check out my other DIY posts.

Find the gold at the end of the rainbow cupcake.

Something I always loved was the way layered, multi-colored cupcakes look. I thought I’d give them a shot a while back (I think when New York passed the gay marriage bill thingy) and never did. I know they’re all over the internet, and there are a gazillion bajillion ways to make them. And I know this blog post is really nothing new.

But it’s cute, right?

I think it’s cute. And what better occasion (other than gay marriage legalized, I mean) could there be than St. Patrick’s Day? You know that old legend, finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow:

Dating back to Old Europe, the legend of the pot of gold is claimed enthusiastically by the Irish. They’ll tell you that fairies put the gold there and then the leprechauns guard it. This folklore has become part of the symbolism of St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that celebrates everything Irish including the hope and luck it takes to find that elusive pot of gold.

The famous Irish lore is based on a bit of eye trickery. In case you didn’t know, there really is no end to a rainbow. The way the physics work, rainbows are actually full circles, except the Earth itself gets in the way of us seeing the complete circle. As humans, our vision is limited to only as far as the horizon.

One of the biggest signs that a Leprechaun is near by is from the rainbow shining from the leprechauns’ pot of gold.

One good tip, a leprechaun is sure to be found near his pot of gold. One needs to be careful when approaching any leprechaun as they are extremely quick and will vanish at the sight of any humans close by, but you can manage to creep up behind him with a net in hope to get the pot of gold or three wishes. Be careful what you wish for though, as Leprechaun’s are smarter than us humans and are known to trick people.

To protect the leprechaun’s pot of gold the Irish fairies gave them magical powers to use if ever captured by a human or an animal. Such magic an Irish leprechaun would perform would be to grant three wishes or to vanish into thin air!

When the Vikings inhabited Ireland, they stored hordes of treasure all over the land. According to the legends, when they left, they forgot to take several stashes of gold with them.

The leprechauns found the gold and divided it among themselves. But they knew the riches of the Vikings had been collected through wicked deeds, and this deepened their mistrust of humans.

The leprechauns decided that humans could not have the gold because of what their greed would make them do. They stored the coins in pots and buried them deep underground where humans could not find them. However, according to the stories, a rainbow will end where a leprechaun has hidden his pot of gold.

- Mystical Mythology from Around the World

 

And I can’t really think of a better representation of a rainbow than a rainbow cupcake. There are a few ways to top them, you know, to keep with the “pot of gold” theme. I chose a less obvious way- gold crystal sugar & edible gold pearl dust with some shamrock sprinkles (you can use edible glitter, too). Another way would be to get those little chocolate gold foil-covered coins (or even individually wrapped Rolo’s) and put one on top of each cupcake, or you can get even more literal and get actual little pots of gold (edible or not). Oh! You know what else would be cute? Lucky Charms. You could put some Lucky Charms cereal on top of them.

But no matter how you top ‘em, you have to make the rainbow itself the same way:

1. One yellow cupcake or white cupcake recipe, divided into 6 bowls and then tinted. Each bowl ends up a different color- red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. If you want to get really crazy, you can follow ROY G. BIV to the tee, including not just blue but “indigo”, or you can throw in some pink. I kept it simple- as it is, the red and orange weren’t very different once baked. That was user error, aka my fault. Not enough yellow in the orange. BAD TRADITIONALLY-TRAINED ARTIST! I should know better.

I didn’t think you needed photos of all that. I figured you could handle it on your own.

Six bowls, equally divided vanilla cupcake batter in each, then each one colored a different color. Simple.

(Pssst- I used white liners so the color could be seen through them, but black liners would be awesome, kinda like a black pot of gold. Plus that way it’d be like a surprise when they’re unwrapped!)

2. After you’ve got your bowls all colored to the shades you want, then you start making your cupcakes. Line your muffin tins, then get six spoons ready. I say six spoons because you’re not going to want to use the same spoon in, say, both the blue and yellow batters, etc. Now you’re ready to make a rainbow.

3. Spoon the first color in to the liners. I’d say about a teaspoon of each color is fine, but do a “test cupcake” just to see how they rise, etc. I did one and it helped me figure out how much of each color and also showed me that the darker colors looked better on the bottom. Therefore, I did it in reverse ROY G. BIV; violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and lastly the red. Try and spoon it in evenly, so that the bottom is covered. Don’t use more batter than you need to, just smooth the batter out with the spoon. My rainbows aren’t perfectly lined up, but that’s okay. Who needs perfect!? Once every cupcake liner is filled, tap the tin on the counter just to even the batter out a bit. Pop ‘em in the oven and that’s it.

Once they’re out, cool ‘em, frost ‘em, and decorate ‘em. I used this tip & a plain vanilla confectioner’s sugar buttercream.

However you choose to do it, I guarantee you your audience will enjoy these. They just make anyone- even the most hard, cold or miserable among us- smile.

Fill your heart with frosting.

I wish I could say I love surprises, but I really don’t.

Deep down inside somewhere, I kinda do; I kinda do get excited about being surprised. But more often than not, it’s just an overwhelming sense of “What am I missing out on?!” and it drives me bananas. I hate not having control over things. I like knowing what’s happening, what time it’s happening, and where it’s going down… I like being dressed appropriately & I like being mentally prepared. Jay can tell you numerous times when I almost ruined birthday gifts, Christmas gifts or trips with this twisted way of thinking. I think the problem is when I know I’m going to be surprised. If you just spring a surprise on me, then I don’t have time to over-analyze or try & figure out what it is. Yeah I know- I’m a f#%!ing wack job who ruins everything. It’s not that I’m a control freak, though, not at all. I’m extremely laid back when it comes to most things. You can plan anything, take me anywhere, give me any gifts, etc, and I’ll be totally cool with it. I just really prefer to know ahead of time.

All that said, however, a cupcake surprise is a different story.

See, these cupcakes aren’t frosted traditionally. Instead, they’re filled with a surprise. And by that I mean they’re filled with a light, fluffy pink-colored vanilla buttercream through a convenient little cut-out heart shape. I used a little heart-shaped cookie cutter from Sur la Table that cost me a whopping $.76. I know, it almost bankrupted me.

Just bake your cupcakes, whatever kind you want, and when they’re all cooled cut out the shape using a small cookie cutter. I went down pretty deep so the entire cupcake would be filled, but you can just do a bit from the top. Then fill the cut-out shape with frosting using a piping bag & small round tip (for the size of my cookie cutter, Wilton’s 2A tip was perfect). Donesky. If you want to do the confectioner’s sugar thing, just dust them AFTER cutting out the shape but BEFORE filling with frosting. That would look awesome with a red velvet cupcake, too. Any & every combination works: chocolate with vanilla filling, red velvet with chocolate filling, red velvet with cream cheese filling, vanilla with strawberry filling, chocolate with strawberry filling, vanilla with chocolate filling, strawberry with chocolate filling… etc, etc. The sugar dusting just won’t be very visible on a vanilla cupcake, though. But that’s okay… it’s pretty without it, too. On that note, I’ve seen it done as a vanilla cupcake with lemon curd filling as well, which would be nice for spring.

*heart cake stand also from Sur La Table

You can use any flavor cupcake, any flavor or kind of frosting, and any shape cookie cutter. Stars, snowflakes, shamrocks, etc. Even just a circle! Here are some recipes, if you need them:

I used Wilton’s heart-shaped silicone baking cups to bake the cupcakes in. Any kind of shape will do, you don’t have to use hearts, nor do you have to use the same shape as your cookie cutter. A round cupcake with a heart cut-out is just as cute! Another excellent idea: letters. Cut out letters on top to spell out a message, or someone’s name, or just use one letter; maybe your kid’s initial for a birthday party. I’m partial to hearts, and the color pink, so obviously I was going to make ones like this for Valentine’s Day. But of course, this idea can extend far past Valentine’s Day.

I like the spelling out of a message idea, myself. Like maybe…

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Just a thought.

printable-valentine-cards-cupid-inside-red-heart

Naughty, naughty.

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No idea how this got started, really. But every year since we started “dating” (can it still be called that after 9 years?), my mother or myself or both of us in tandem have bought Jay a little bag or a little tin of coal and put it in his Christmas stocking. It was just an ongoing joke about him being naughty that we both found hilarious, and over the past 8 Christmases, the poor guy ended up with a drawer full of coal because he didn’t want to just toss it. I hated to give up the joke, because it really was funny to see him get halfway through the stocking & pull out ANOTHER container of coal… but I felt bad. That’s a lot of coal. And it really does just end up in the trash.

But it was pretty funny. My poor Jay. Picture it: he’s opening gifts, all happy and excited, and he gets halfway through his stocking and BAM! There it is. Another. Freakin’. Piece. Hilarious. Once I even stuffed the stocking with other random crap like weighed-down tissue paper instead of gifts, leaving just the coal at the bottom! Ohhh, Christmas coal. Providing laughter… and tears… for centuries.

The practice of giving coal to naughty children dates back to one of (at least) five possible origins:

Sicily

One of the many origin stories begins in Italy where they believe in La Befana (a witch who delivers presents) instead of Santa Claus. When Jesus was born, La Befana saw a bright star in the sky and gathered some toys and other presents to give to the baby Jesus, but she couldn’t find the stable. Every year she goes around looking for Jesus and leaves toys for good children, and coal for bad ones. These days, Italians use a candy, called Carbone Dolce, to turn the legend into a joke. The dark, rock-like candy looks exactly like lumps of coal.

Holland

Some people say that the lumps of coal story started in Holland in the 16th century. Before Christmas, children would put their clogs by the fireplace before stockings were used. When a child was bad they got a lump of coal, but if they were good they got a small toy, cookies or candy.

England

In the 19th century, most of Europe was powered by coal, and most household furnaces were coal burning. A pan of hot coals would often be kept under the bed to generate heat in the middle of the night. In England, while the children of rich families got candy and toys in their stockings, those who were poor (believed to have been made poor by God, as punishment for their family’s bad deeds) would get coal, if they were lucky.

The Nobleman

A proud but poor nobleman had three daughters ready to marry. The problem was, he had no dowry to give them. Saint Nicholas secretly gave the family enough money so their daughters could start their lives out with their new husbands. He did this by placing the money in some stockings that were drying by the fireplace. When word spread about this miracle, everyone started hanging their stockings by the fire in hopes that the secret benefactor would visit them. He did visit those houses, but for those who Saint Nicholas knew to be bad, he left them with a lump of coal instead of gold.

Krampusnacht

Krampus is a beast-like creature from the folklore of Alpine countries thought to punish bad children during the Christmas season, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards nice ones with gifts. Krampus is said to capture particularly naughty children in his sack and carry them away to his lair. The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated in parts of Europe on December 6. In Alpine countries, Saint Nicholas has a devilish companion named Krampus. On the preceding evening, Krampus Night or Krampusnacht, the hairy devil appears on the streets. Sometimes accompanying St. Nicholas and sometimes on his own, Krampus visits homes and businesses.The Saint usually appears in the Eastern Rite vestments of a bishop, and he carries a ceremonial staff. Unlike North American versions of Santa Claus, in these celebrations Saint Nicholas concerns himself only with the good children, while Krampus is responsible for the bad. Nicholas dispenses gifts, while Krampus supplies coal and the ruten bundles. 

-eHow.com

So it’s been around a long time, and a lot of people have been getting a lump or two of coal in their stockings in the last couple of hundred years. But this year, I think Jay will be far more pleased to find a big ol’ jar of it in his stocking. Because this year it’s not real coal, just chocolate cookies that look like coal.

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What a great offbeat- and a little bit edgy- Christmas cookie idea. You know I have a tendency to lean towards a dark side. And this time of year, there really isn’t a lot of room for that, unless you do the Nightmare Before Christmas angle which is a bit overdone (I love the movie, but seriously…). These cookies, however, have a bit of a sinister twist to ‘em. Especially given the history of the coal, but also because they’re black. You don’t see a lot of black around Christmastime, do you?

What I did was I baked up some dark chocolate cookies, shaped ‘em all rough and then put them in a jar I decorated with a label I designed and topped with a black-painted lid. Super easy. I just took one of my mason jars, glued the two-piece lid together, and painted it black. But you could also use an old, cleaned-out spaghetti sauce jar and paint the lid, or buy a mason jar with a one-piece lid at a craft store. I just made a 2″ x 2″ round label & printed it out, then used Elmer’s glue to attach it to the jar since Elmer’s is water soluble & will come right off. You could also print it out on a self-stick jar label if you’ve got ‘em (Attention fellow geeks: the font I used in the label is called ‘Stamp Act’). You can also download a printable label from eighteen25.blogspot.com if you’re not as savvy with Photoshop as I am.

Another gifting idea for these? Use a little cheesecloth/muslin/burlap bag instead of a jar. There’s a little how-to at chicaandjo.com that can help you out with that. But, you know I love anything in a jar. Especially cookies.

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And… this little coal concept also takes the edge off taking photos of misshapen dark chocolate cookies. You know, they either look like poop or, well, lumps of coal! Might as well capitalize on it, right? Thanks so much to Make Bake Celebrate for the idea, and to The Salty Spoon for the (adapted) recipe. Also these cookies are gluten-free, so they’re perfect for anyone you may know with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.

It’s such a cute idea it makes you wonder why you never thought of it yourself. Unless you have.

LUMP OF COAL COOKIES (adapted from The Salty Spoon who adapted it from Bon Appétit, June 2008)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder- preferably dark (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black food coloring (probably less if you’re using Americolor)
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment or a Silpat. If you have more than one cookie sheet, prep another as well. This recipe makes more than a single sheet’s-worth of cookies and will necessitate baking in two batches. If you don’t have two cookies sheets, don’t worry about it – just let the sheet cool down a bit between batches.
  2. Measure 1 cup of the chocolate chips into a glass bowl. Microwave for 1 minute, stir, then zap for another minute while watching closely. When things start to look really shiny, pull it out and stir again until the chips are completely melted. Stir in the black food coloring. Set aside.
  3. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks with an electric (or stand) mixer. Leaving the mixer running on medium, sprinkle in the sugar in three or four additions so you work it in gradually. Crank it up a notch and keep beating until it looks thick and creamy.
  4. In another medium bowl, stir together the remaining sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Crank the mixer to low and add the dry ingredients in a few batches until fully incorporated.
  5. Stir in the (now slightly cooled) melted chocolate and the remaining chocolate chips. If the dough seems stiff at this point, proceed to the next step. If not, set it aside for 10 minutes or so – it will continue to gain body as it sets up.
  6. Plop them by the teaspoonful on a prepared cookie sheet, 2″ apart. Bake 10 minutes, until they are puffy and the tops have cracked.
  7. Once you pull them from the oven, let them cool on the cookie sheet for 10 minutes. Then, take each cookie and smoosh them into a “coal shape” (basically a rough, uneven, lumpy ball). They might still be hot inside, so put them back on the rack for another 5-10 minutes once they’re shaped.

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DON’T OVER BAKE THESE. If you over bake them, they’ll be too hard once you form them into “coal” and your children will break their tiny little teeth.

I used my hand mixer to make these, from the egg whites all the way through to the final dough, but I will say that most of you should opt for using a stand mixer. The dough gets very stiff when it “sets up.” That means it might be too much for the average hand mixer. My hand mixer- also known as “He Who Must Not Be Named”- happens to be a beast: a KitchenAid digital 9-speed Architect model. But if you’ve got a not-so-powerful one, you might want to just go right for the big guns. I’ve ruined many a hand mixer overestimating it’s power. Learn from me.

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And there you have it. They taste just like brownies, look like lumps of coal, but they’re cookies. Figure that one out, Santa!

What’s black & white & green all over?

No, not Arwyn the kitty.

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Although she is quite beautiful, and appropriate for today. Oh, and adorable too.

What I really meant by that were THESE CUPCAKES. They’re pretty awesome. Black, white, and green all over.

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Witches Brew cupcakes: vanilla cupcakes with a green vanilla bean frosting. Simple. But SO GOOD.

Wi;

Such fun. Oh, this time of year is a lovely time for baking, isn’t it? I’m always so sad when Halloween is over, and all my witches go away for another year. But I’m also really happy this Halloween. Why? Because Hurricane Sandy is gone and I can enjoy my absolute favorite holiday! It’s still a little windy, but thankfully she’s moving on. And so are we.

Black & white liners are from sweet estelle baking supply on Etsy. Vintagey toppers are so old, I have no idea where they’re from, but you can get similar ones here. As far as I know, Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola is sold at Fairway Market (but I’m sure the website lists other places). The table runner was a gift from my sweet friend Yoyo a few years ago. All the recipes needed can be found at the recipe index. Just a regular vanilla cupcake, and regular vanilla buttercream with one vanilla bean scraped into it. I wish you could see the vanilla flecks better in the photos!

I hope you all have a very happy and safe Halloween. See you in November!

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I saw three witches
That bowed down like barley,
And straddled their brooms ‘neath a louring sky,
And, mounting a storm-cloud,
Aloft on its margin,
Stood black in the silver as up they did fly.

I saw three witches
That mocked the poor sparrows
They carried in cages of wicker along,
Till a hawk from his eyrie
Swooped down like an arrow,
Smote on the cages, and ended their song.

I saw three witches
That sailed in a shallop,
All turning their heads with a snickering smile,
Till a bank of green osiers
Concealed their grim faces,
Though I heard them lamenting for many a mile.

I saw three witches
Asleep in a valley,
Their heads in a row, like stones in a flood,
Till the moon, creeping upward,
Looked white through the valley,
And turned them to bushes in bright scarlet bud.

- “I Saw Three Witches”, Walter De La Mare

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An apple pie a day…

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Apples are my favorite fruits ever. That might be another reason why I live for fall. I can’t get enough of apples- a cold apple right out of the refrigerator is awesome. Especially if it’s a juicy, crisp one. Macintosh, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, Empire, Golden Delicious, Pink Lady… I love ‘em all. I don’t care for other fruits as much as I care for the apple. And I live in (or close enough to) the Big Apple, so how appropriate is that? New York is famous for it’s apples, actually. We’re not only the second largest apple-producing state in the country, but we grow some of the best you can get!

And so therefore it wouldn’t be this time of year without apple desserts. Apple strudel, caramel apple syrup, baked apples with sweet ricotta, apple dumplings, caramel apples, apple turnovers, apple muffins, apple cupcakes, apple cider donuts and apple pie.

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Apple pie is one of those classic desserts that, in my opinion, is best made by pie-people. You know who those people are, right? Pie-people? Tania is a pie-person. Her pies are always beautiful, with perfectly rolled, evenly baked crusts. I’m not a pie person (as is evidenced by my horrendous crust-rolling & uneven pies). I’m a cake-person. That’s not to say that pie-people can’t bake cakes or cake-people can’t bake pies… no, not at all. I can make a successful pie, and Tania can most certainly make a beautiful cake. It’s just for me personally, my specialty isn’t in the area of piedom. I can make ‘em, but they’re far from perfect. Yes, they taste delicious and most people don’t notice the imperfections I do. But are they going to win any prizes at a county fair?

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Hell to the no. But my mini-apple pies? They just might.

I love that they look like little shrunken mini versions of apple pies!

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See, I really, really wanted to make an apple pie this year, desperately. Despite my inherent lack of pie-making skills. I have this great vintage “apple pie” pie plate (above) that was my mom’s, and it’s super cute. It’s got a recipe for apple pie written right on the bottom! I’ve always loved it and wanted to use it, but I just felt like it wasn’t right to make anything but apple pie in it. So this year I decided I’d use it. And I bought a new pie bird (isn’t he adorable!?) just for that reason. I was going to get all old school and make a big ass apple pie with my little ceramic black bird in the middle in my vintage pie plate. But then I looked up some recipes, and I thought about it… and I decided no. I was going to go an alternate route. A more me route.

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‘Cause, like I said, I’m not really a pie-person, you know?

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But I am a hand-held pie person. I’m a Pop-Tart person. I like my desserts portable, easy to bring along with you. Cupcakes, brownies, cookies, you get my drift. So how about a mini pie? Better yet… how about a portable mini apple pie?

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And while I’m sure the hand-pie has been done a thousand times before, so has the pie itself. How many times have you seen an apple pie recipe on a blog? And how many variations are there? And… how many of them proclaim themselves the BEST? Lots, I’m willing to bet. And I’m betting you, yourself, have a pie recipe that you boast as being the best. And everyone is probably correct: pie is such a comforting, familial thing. Our family pie recipes are always going to be the best. They’re never totally new or completely original, but that’s what makes them fantastic. Pie is a concept as old as the concept of food itself, and has been incarnated in hundreds if not thousands of ways since the beginning of pie-creation.

Pie has graced our kitchens for thousands of years, and not just as a holiday treat. Pie once offered cooks a practical way to bake and store all kinds of perishable ingredients. Meat, game, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, and spices, along with more familiar fillings like berries, nuts, and custards, were mixed and matched in piecrusts that could be more than an inch thick. If fat was poured into a hole in the crust’s lid after baking, the contents could be preserved for months. Small, folded-over hand pies were given to travelers and field laborers, who kept them stashed safely in their pockets or rucksacks until mealtime—a messy-sounding practice, until you realize that the crusts were probably more like papier-mâché shells than the flaky delicacies we admire today.

America didn’t invent pie—ancient Egypt gets credit for that. We didn’t even come up with the most outrageous ones, a distinction that belongs to medieval Europe, where, for the delight of dinner guests, piecrusts were baked hollow in fanciful shapes, then filled with live birds or frogs that would burst out when the dish was cut into. “Four and 20 blackbirds…” isn’t just a nursery rhyme after all.

But America is the country that truly embraced pie. Over open hearths and in cast-iron stoves, New World cooks baked partridge pies, lobster pies, squirrel pies, macaroni pies, and quichelike fiddlehead-fern pies. They’d follow a meal of savory pie with a dessert of, say, buttermilk pie. Or raisin pie. Or gooey, molasses-rich shoofly pie. So ubiquitous was pie that a character in a 19th-century tale griped about sitting down to “pie 21 times a week.” And a British journalist visiting the United States in 1882 wrote, “Almost everything that I behold in this wonderful country bears traces of improvement and reform—everything except pie…. Men may come and men may go…but pie goes on forever.”

-Oprah.com: “The History of Pie”

So what’s one more hand-pie recipe out there, right?

MINI HAND-HELD APPLE PIES

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch of double pie-crust dough OR one box frozen pie crust (defrosted according to package)
  • 3-4 apples, one kind or any combination you like, peeled, cored and cut into small pieces (about 1/2″- 1″)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice OR
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 egg, beaten

Directions:

  1. Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 375° degrees.
  2. Mix apples & lemon juice in a medium bowl. Stir in the sugar, flour & spices until the apples are evenly covered. Set aside.
  3. Roll out the pastry crust and cut out your circles (or whatever shape you’re making), placing them on the baking sheet. Spoon a teaspoon or a teaspoon and a half of the mixture into the center of each circle.
  4. Cut out the same amount of circles from the dough, making an X in the middle of this batch. Brush the egg around the edges of the “bottom” circles (the ones on the baking sheet), and place the X circles on top. Gently press to seal the edges, then crimp them using a fork.
  5. Brush the tops of the pies with the egg, and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. After removing from the oven, let cool for 10 minutes before moving to a wire rack. Pies are best when eaten warm or room temperature the day they’re made, but are quite decent the next day. Longer than that, I don’t know- mine were all gone!

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This one isn’t particularly groundbreaking or unique, it’s just a simple, straightforward apple hand-pie. You can spice it up a bit by adding some spiced rum or gold rum or even bourbon to the filling if that tickles you. You can also add a cream cheese-y cheesecake type filling to them along with the apple. You can add an icing or “glaze” on top, you can even cut out bits of dough to look like apples and “glue” them on top with the egg wash before baking. Cut them into a square shape and then cut out a jack-o-lantern face on the top dough layer. Fill it with a jam filling, a fresh fruit filling, a Nutella filling, a Shoo-fly pie filling, a pecan pie filling, or a canned pie filling. Make them pumpkin hand pies! Do whatever you want. That’s all up to you.

I prefer to use the whole egg to do an egg wash; I find it creates a more attractive & shiny golden brown color. But if you’d rather skip using the yolk, then you can.

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I’m just giving you the basic idea. Run with it.

Some people will be bossy about what kind of apples you should use. I won’t be. I’ve made this just as successfully with Red Delicious apples as well as Braeburn or Granny Smith. These aren’t real apple pies, they aren’t baked for an hour. So if you use a softer apple it won’t turn to mush like it would in a pie. The best pies are the ones made with things you enjoy eating… so if you like Fuji apples then use them! Don’t be concerned about how it’s going to turn out. Save the worries about whether or not the apples will be firm enough for the contestants on Master Chef. I guarantee no matter what you do, you’ll be fine with these. And yes- pears work well in this recipe too, with minimal adaptation.

Even Mr. Blackbird here enjoyed them… and his day off.

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While I didn’t make an actual pie… I did make many pies, and I still got to use the pie plate!

Shortcut tip: like I said in the recipe above, you can use frozen pie crusts for the dough. Just use a good quality one. Let them defrost or come to room temperature (according to directions on the box) and roll them out as needed to 1/4″ thick, then cut your circles, or whatever shapes you’re using, and go from there. If you do this you’ll cut a lot of time out of the creation of the pies, so it might be worth it to you. I don’t know about using frozen puff pastry, but I don’t see why not. I’d love to hear about it if that’s what you decided to use.

Sources & credits: Royal China by Jeannette “apple pie” pie plate; vintage, Norpro black pie bird.

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Everybody loves a picnic!

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
-James Henry

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I love picnics. I don’t have them often, of course, but I’ve had a few over the course of my life & they’ve always been fun. When I was a kid, my mom used to have “backyard picnics” where we just set up a simple little picnic on the grass in the yard. It wasn’t anything crazy, usually a few sandwiches with the crusts cut off (mine was always either peanut butter or potato chip; yes I ate potato chip sandwiches) and some soda or sparkling water and some snacks. Once or twice on a rainy day we even had an indoor picnic on the floor and had pizza or Chinese food. It was so much fun.

And then you grow up and your sense of fun changes. You forget to do little fun things every now and then, “just because.”;

Taking a cue from that, I decided to have one now. As a “grown-up.” I have these two vintage picnic baskets sitting around that I never used. Plus I’ve been working really hard, on a variety of things (like the new Recipe Index!). I figured, why do I have to actually go somewhere to have a picnic when I can have one right here?! You can have a picnic anywhere- even inside, like I said. Martha Stewart recently did a segment on the Today show about how to prepare a picnic entirely in jars! There are tons of ways to do a picnic, from traditional to un-traditional. Bring cold foods, hot foods, room-temperature foods, salads, wine & cheese. Whatever you like.

The first usage of the word ‘picnic’ is traced to the 1692 edition of Tony Willis, Origines de la Langue Française, which mentions pique-nique as being of recent origin; it marks the first appearance of the word in print. The term was used to describe a group of people dining in a restaurant who brought their own wine. The concept of a picnic long retained the connotation of a meal to which everyone contributed something. Whether picnic is actually based on the verb piquer which means ‘pick’ or ‘peck’ with the rhyming nique meaning “thing of little importance” is doubted; the Oxford English Dictionary says it is of unknown provenance. The word predates lynching in the United States; claims that it is derived from a shortening of ‘pick a n—-r’ are untrue.[2]

The word ‘picnic’ first appeared in English in a letter of the Gallicized Lord Chesterfield in 1748 (OED), who associates it with card-playing, drinking and conversation, and may have entered the English language from this French word.[3] The practice of an elegant meal eaten out-of-doors, rather than a harvester worker’s dinner in the harvest field, was connected with respite from hunting from the Middle Ages; the excuse for the pleasurable outing of 1723 in François Lemoyne‘s painting Hunt Picnic is still offered in the context of a hunt.

After the French Revolution in 1789, royal parks became open to the public for the first time. Picnicking in the parks became a popular activity amongst the newly enfranchised citizens.

Early in the 19th century, a fashionable group of Londoners (including Edwin Young) formed the ‘Picnic Society‘. Members met in the Pantheon on Oxford Street. Each member was expected to provide a share of the entertainment and of the refreshments with no one particular host. Interest in the society waned in the 1850s as the founders died.[4]

From the 1830s, Romantic American landscape painting of spectacular scenery often included a group of picnickers in the foreground. An early American illustration of the picnic is Thomas Cole‘s The Pic-Nic of 1846 (Brooklyn Museum of Art).[5] In it, a guitarist serenades the genteel social group in the Hudson River Valley with the Catskills visible in the distance. Cole’s well-dressed young picnickers having finished their repast, served from splint baskets on blue-and-white china, stroll about in the woodland and boat on the lake.

The image of picnics as a peaceful social activity can be utilised for political protest, too. In this context, a picnic functions as a temporary occupation of significant public territory. A famous example of this is the Pan-European Picnic held on both sides of the Hungarian/Austrian border on the 19 August 1989 as part of the struggle towards German reunification.

In 2000, a 600-mile-long picnic took place from coast to coast in France to celebrate the first Bastille Day of the new Millennium. In the United States, likewise, the 4 July celebration of American independence is a popular day for a picnic. In Italy, the favorite picnic day is Easter Monday.

-Wikipedia

I decided to try my hand at a new recipe for a healthier macaroni salad to serve at my little picnic. It’s got basically 3/4 the calories of regular macaroni salad, and it’s got something like 1/3 the fat. Not that these things bother me particularly, because I don’t eat macaroni salad & don’t really count calories anyway, but you can’t have a picnic without some kind of mayo-based or carb-based salad, and I thought it’d be an interesting thing to try. Everyone is looking to cut down on fat nowadays. Not me. I like fat.


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Eh. Let’s just call this a new twist on macaroni salad. From what I hear it’s too delicious to be considered “low fat” or anything. And about my “I like fat” comment above; I really do like it. But that doesn’t mean you have to. I’m just being an asshole. Obviously, if you have dietary restrictions or health issues, lower fat diets are important. It’s just that I don’t. So I like fat. And I can’t really apologize for that.

‘Kay, now that that’s settled.. on to the salad!

CREAMY MACARONI SALAD

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound macaroni (I used small shells)
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 hard-boiled large eggs, whites roughly chopped, yolks left whole
  • 2 dill pickle spears, chopped
  • 1/2 a medium red onion, chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tablespoons chives for topping (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to the package directions in salted boiling water. Drain and return to the pot it was cooked in.
  2. Meanwhile, mash the two egg yolks in a large bowl with a fork. Add the yogurt, mayonnaise, and the lemon juice; stir together until creamy & smooth.
  3. Add pasta to mayonnaise mixture, and using a silicone spatula, flip and stir the pasta until evenly coated in the mayo mix. Add the egg whites, red onions and chopped pickles and mix well.
  4. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chives just before serving.

This salad can be stored in the fridge an airtight container for up to three days. If it’s too dry after taking it out of the fridge, you can add a tablespoon more yogurt (or mayo, whatever). Just do yourself a favor and don’t accidentally buy vanilla yogurt. You’ll gross yourself out big time if you use that…

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The cool thing about macaroni salads (& potato salads) is that you can add pretty much anything you like, within reason. You can add radishes, celery, sliced Bell peppers, dill, slivered carrots, exchange the lemon juice for vinegar, etc. Take out stuff you don’t like, add stuff you do. This other macaroni salad I made is a great example of that. You can personalize it 100% and yet it’s always guaranteed to be delicious.

As far as a picnic goes- it’s easy. You don’t even need anything crazy. Some bread (mine was a French baguette), cheese (I had some provolone & goat’s milk brie), macaroni or potato salad, fried chicken if you’re really ambitious, maybe some cold cuts or cold leftover chicken, some fresh fruit (& whipped cream if you like- I had strawberries, cherries, oranges & nectarines), maybe some warm-weather friendly cupcakes, a jar or two of pickles (I brought red wine vinegar/red onion pickles & dilly beans), maybe some sliced cucumbers & yogurt, baby carrots & ranch dressing, a refreshing drink or two (maybe even some wine- not pictured) and some cutlery and napkins… that’s it. You’re ready to go! Lucky for you, I took some photos of my little picnic before digging in.

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Today might be a rainy/thunderstorm-y day here in New York & a bunch of other places on the East Coast, but when are you having your summer picnic?