It’s been a while!

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 2.52.53 PMWell, it’s been quite a bit of time since we last met, friends – and I apologize for it! Big life events – new jobs, travel, family stuff – have all been happening and caused me to have to take some time away. I’ve missed this space though and I’m ready to get back into filling your screens with scrumptious treats and unique craft & DIY projects. Before I do, though, allow me take just a few days for our annual trip to the lake, yes? It’s going to be me, Bear, and three of our greatest friends from the East Coast in a little log cabin on a lakeshore up North. Does it get any better? Check back here next week for a special post as I get back into the swing of things.

If you’re new to my little corner of the Internet, or are visiting from Buzzfeed (so exciting, omg!), stay a while and dig through the archives. New friend or old, I’d also love it if you followed me on Pinterest, InstagramTwitter, or joined my little mailing list to receive updates when I post. To do so, add your email address to the subscribe box on the top right of the site.

Until next week, have happy summer-filled weekends!

xoxo,
Femme Fraîche

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Chocolate Cake with Burnt Oranges

Chocolate Cake with Burnt OrangesThis recipe is inspired by an old friend of my dad’s, Charlie, who used to visit us regularly for a weekend here and there when I was very small. While I’m not sure I could pick Charlie out of a line-up today if you put 6 elderly, white gentlemen in front of me with strong noses and spotted hands, my memories of time spent together are much clearer: Charlie quizzing me on my first grade vocabulary words and giving me a Tic-Tac for each one I managed to spell correctly. My father teasing him about his love for freshly grond black pepper noting that, “Charlie puts pepper on everything!” and me, my eyes wide, asking Charlie, “Even on apple pie?!” But most clearly, Charlie, coming through the door with an overnight bag in one hand and a paper bag in the other, filled with his wife, Charlene’s, chocolate cake with burnt oranges.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt OrangesCharlene’s cake was the perfect marriage of both their heritages – first generation Irish-Americans whose families lived on the same block in the Bronx growing up, making their courtship one that started in the 8th grade and lasted until they were both well into their 90s. While looking through old photographs on a visit home recently, I came across a photo from the ’70s of my young, stocky, mutton-chopped father sandwiched between Charlie and Charlene, a grocery bag at his feet with what I can only imagine is a chocolate cake with burnt oranges for him to carry home to my mother and me.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt OrangesChocolate cake with burnt oranges isn’t actually a “thing,” such as peanut butter and jelly or bagels and lox. In Ireland, burnt oranges are their own dessert, a sweet and bitter compote, spiked with whiskey, that caramelizes in the oven with butter and sugar and are then eaten, cooled, with cream or custard. Somewhere along the way, though, Charlene rather brilliantly decided to pair this golden-hued sauce with a dark chocolate cake and, well, she should be properly canonized for it. The oranges add the perfect bit of bitterness to offset the richness and sweetness from both the cake itself and the orange-caramel syrup produced by the oranges while roasting. Spooned over an already moist cake, the oranges and their amber juices turn the cake’s texture into one, almost, like a steamed pudding – soft and treacly.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt OrangesSadly, Charlene’s exact recipe is lost to history, as both she and Charlie passed on long ago, well beyond I became consciously interested in cooking and baking. I remember it enough to think, though, that this recipe is fairly close and, if my memory does fail me at all, well, this is awfully good too. What this recipe lacks in visual appeal (in addition to this weird set of half-cropped photos I’ve, somehow, managed here!), it makes up for in flavor – of which it has a lot! Share this with your favorite chocolate-orange lover or after your St. Patrick’s day dinner. With a swirl of whipped cream and a cup of tea or, better yet, an Irish coffee, this cake is sure to leave you returning for seconds.

Chocolate Cake with Burnt Oranges
Cake is Ina Garten’s recipe. Oranges adapted from here & here.

Ingredients
For the cake
Butter, for greasing the pans
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups good cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Powdered sugar for garnish

For the burnt oranges
3 large navel oranges, scrubbed clean
7 tablespoons of butter, softened and separated
3-1/2 cups of granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1-1/2 tablespoons of Irish whiskey (brandy may also be substituted)
1/2 cup of orange juice, fresh-squeezed or bottled
1/8 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Directions
For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour one 10″ bundt pan and set aside.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a mixing bowl and blend by hand or on low speed until combined. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. With a hand blender on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The batter will be very, very loose after the coffee – don’t fret! Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Once cool, dust with powdered sugar.

For the burnt oranges
Preheat your oven to 450° F. Pour 1/2 cup of sugar onto a large plate. Next, smear the oranges with 6 tablespoons of the softened butter and roll them in the sugar, being sure to cover them as fully as possible. Pour the remaining 3 cups of sugar and whatever sugar remains on the plate into the bottom of an 8″ square cake pan and shake it gently to evenly distribute it over the bottom. Place the butter and sugar coated oranges into the pan and bake for 20 minutes; you may need to give the pan a little swirl halfway through to break up any unmelted sugar. After 20 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and transfer the oranges to a stable work surface where they can cool for 15 minutes. Do not turn your oven off, but do turn it down to 425° F. After the oranges have cooled enough where you can touch them, carefully cut each of them into quarters and place them skin side up back into the pan. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the skins have browned.

Remove the oranges from the oven once more, but leave it on. Put oranges back on your work surface and in the hot pan, immediately add a tiny pinch of salt, the whiskey, and the orange juice. Return to oven for 10 minutes or until the liquid has become a bit thicker and is bubbling. In the meantime, remove the pulp from the oranges carefully avoiding any of the white pith, which will make your mixture very bitter. You only want to remove the flesh. After the liquid has thickened, remove from the oven (you can finally shut your oven off now), and add the vanilla and remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir in the orange pieces. Serve warm over slices of cake and add a dollop of homemade whipped cream.

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Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese SoupOne of my favorite activities is lying in bed at night and dreaming up new recipes with Bear. Usually, one of us will be looking at Pinterest or working on devouring a new novel when the other will exclaim out of nowhere, “You know what would be great to make for the blog?” What follows usually varies in both its appeal and possibility. Some ideas dissipate as quickly as they formed, while others make it onto a running list in my phone only to stay there for months without barely a second thought. Better suggestions make it to the trial stage, but fail miserably and on really good days, I’m able to take an idea and turn it into something absolutely delicious that we wind up having twice in one week because it’s that darn good. Such is the case here with this Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup!

The truth is, this recipe started off as an idea to make a “loaded” cauliflower soup like one would if making a rift on a loaded baked potato. I still think this is a tasty idea (thanks, boo!) and, truly, who doesn’t want to top a thick cauliflower soup with bacon, scallions, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and other favorite toppings? I’ll come back to this idea, I know it, but before I could get there a few weeks ago, I spied a round of Boursin shallot & chive herbed cheese in the back of my dairy drawer and instantly knew this would be a pairing for the ages. A quick search will tell you that there’s no shortage of cauliflower and cheese soup recipes out there, but from what I found, no one had thought to pair this creamy, savory cheese with cauliflower just yet – at least as far as Google is concerned. It was all the motivation I needed to put this new plan into action – roasted cauliflower and herbed cheese soup was born!

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese SoupIn this recipe, I start by roasting the cauliflower with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic until it is medium brown and nutty so that the flavor of our shining star is concentrated and ever-present through each spoonful. I know when the cauliflower is done both by the buttery, toasted aroma it gives off and when the edges of smaller pieces start to become crisp. Seriously, I could stop right here and eat the entire tray as is, but then a) there’d be no soup and b) I’d be in terrible gastrointestinal distress for the following 6-8 hours.

Paired with some golden, sautéed onions, fresh thyme, and chicken or vegetable broth, the soup is bulked up by the addition of two medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes that add to its silkiness once pureed and makes the soup hearty and warming – or, exactly what we all need to get through the remains of winter. With the herbed cheese melted in at the final moment, the soup becomes creamy with both the flavor and mouth-feel (don’t hate me for using that word) of fresh cream and the added deliciousness of shallot and chives. Top your bowls with homemade croutons, a sprinkle of fresh parsley, some crispy bacon, or all of the above for a soup that will quickly become your new favorite. Roasted cauliflower and herbed cheese soup: make it tonight!

Roasted Cauliflower and Herbed Cheese Soup
Yields 4 servings

Ingredients
1 medium head of cauliflower, cut into florets
3 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
Salt & pepper
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled & chopped
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup of milk or cream
3 ounces of herbed cheese, such as Boursin, Alouette, or Rondelé, crumbled
Croutons, crispy bacon pieces, or chopped fresh herbs for garnish (optional)

Directions
Preheat your oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Roast until medium brown, about 20-30 minutes. While the cauliflower is roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a soup pot over medium heat, add the onion and potatoes and sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until onions are tender. Add the garlic and thyme and sauté until fragrant, about a minute or two. Deglaze the pot with the broth and add the roasted cauliflower. Bring soup to a boil, cover with a lid, and reduce to simmer, allowing the soup to cook for about 20 minutes. Potatoes should be tender before removing pot from heat.

Once the soup has finished cooking and you have turned off the flame, use an immersion blender and puree the soup until it reaches a smooth consistency. Add milk or cream and the crumbled cheese, stirring to incorporate. Cover pot and allow cheese to melt and integrate into the soup. Stir well and check the soup for salt & pepper; season if necessary. Add homemade croutons, crisp bacon, or a chiffonade of fresh herbs to the top of each bowl for garnish.

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Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsI’m so thrilled to be joining Haley and six other food bloggers in this challenge to create a recipe and post for one of the 2015 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. I was paired with The Grand Budapest Hotel, a quirky comedy from writer and director, Wes Anderson, and created these Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs in response. As per most of Anderson’s movies – Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The Royal Tenenbaums, among others – The Grand Budapest Hotel features an all-star cast. Part murder mystery, part art heist, part coming-of-age tale, the film grants roles to some of Anderson’s usual suspects, like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, but also some new additions such as the lead opposite Ralph Fienne’s Monsieur Gustave, Zero, the Lobby Boy, played by Tony Revolori. Without question, though, my favorite character in the film whose screen-time is far too brief, is Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis, also referred to as “Madame D.”

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsMadame D., played by the incomparable weirdo that is Tilda Swinton, is the wealthy widow who visits The Grand Budapest regularly for its timeless service and the affections of Monsieur Gustave – a paramour of many an older lady. Madame D.’s first moments on screen are also her last, as she is murdered for her fortune shortly after. Stuffy, fancy, and lavish in her dress and accoutrement, Madame D. was, immediately, my inspiration going into this Oscar blog challenge. The image of her full, graying beehive and rich ochre dress quickly coaxed the idea choux pastry from my brain, developing, with time, into these gorgeous lemon chantilly cream puffs.

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsChoux pastry, which creates the actual puff itself, is a recipe that gets a lot of flack for being difficult, but I think this largely stems from American’s lack of familiarity with it. Truthfully, it requires only a strong arm that can endure some vigorous stirring and about 5 minutes of your absolute attention. Why don’t we make cream puffs all the time, right? I know! This version is filled with a mixture of stiffly whipped cream, lightly sweetened, and then folded together with bright, zesty lemon curd. Together, they create an airy, but rich, lemon filling that is every bit as regal as Madame D. herself. I can just see her biting into one with her crimson-painted mouth right now!

Lemon Chantilly Cream PuffsWhat makes these cream puffs extra fancy, though, is the lemon-enhanced meringue peaks that surround the cream puff lids in swirls and swoops, just like Madame D.’s coif. Set in the oven for just a few minutes, they toast up light brown and taste of the very best campfire marshmallow. They are as whimsical as the film itself, but, dare I say, far more delightful! Check out the recipe for these beauties below, but before doing so, won’t you see what these seven other wonderful bloggers have concocted for their Best Picture pairings?

Oscars 2015 Best Picture Inspired Recipes

I’m so impressed by the level of creativity here and can’t wait to try some of these delicious treats! Now, onto Madame D.’s puffs!

Lemon Chantilly Cream Puffs
Yields approximately 10 cream puffs

Ingredients
For the cream puffs
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) of butter
1 cup of water
1 cup of flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
4 eggs

For the lemon chantilly cream
1/2 cup of heavy cream, chilled
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
1/2 cup of lemon curd
* If the lemon curd is store bought, add the zest of one half a lemon

For the meringue tops
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon of cream of tartar
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
A dash of lemon extract

Directions
Make the cream puff shells first, noting that they must cool completely before filling. I often make them the night before and leave them out on the counter, uncovered, overnight. If you put them in a container while they’re even slightly warm, they will get doughty. Once filled, they get soft, and then soggy, as they sit, so if making them for a party or for company, fill right before you’re reading to serve. Ready? Let’s go!

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Crack all 4 eggs into a pitcher, or bowl with a spout, so that they are ready immediately when needed. In a heavy-bottom pot, over medium heat, add the water and butter to the pan. When the mixture is boiling and the butter is melted, add the flour and salt and stir quickly to combine the ingredients. Continue stirring as the mixture integrates and forms a soft ball, which follows your spoon around the pot. The sides of the pot should be clean as the batter forms. Once the batter is ready, remove the pot from the heat and add one egg at a time, mixing vigorously throughout to incorporate each egg. You may need to alternate between a wooden spoon and a whisk, beating in the eggs. Your mixing should be fast and deliberate so that the eggs do not begin to scramble. The batter is finished when the eggs are all added and the mixture is smooth, thick, and holds its shape.

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, form 10 evenly-shaped mounds with a slightly peaked top. I create a larger mound as the base and then a smaller one on top. If your peak comes to a fine point, gently pat it down so that it does not burn in the oven. You may also pipe the batter onto the baking sheet if you prefer. Bake the puffs for about 40 minutes or until they are a medium brown (not golden). Set aside to cool completely.

In the meantime, create the lemon chantilly cream. In a chilled bowl, add the heavy cream and the sugar and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Separately, warm your lemon curd in the microwave or on the stove top, so that it is a very soft gel-like consistency and gently fold it into the heavy cream a bit at a time until it is thoroughly incorporated. If you are using a store-bought lemon curd that could do with a bit of freshness, also fold in the zest of one half of a lemon at this time. Return to fridge and allow to chill.

When the cream puffs are cooled and ready to be prepared for serving, slice each puff horizontally at the point where the two mounds merge, creating a clear, wide base and a peaked top. Very gently, scoop out the base of the cream puff and discard the moist, slightly doughy center to provide maximum space for the cream. In a clean, dry bowl, add the two egg whites and the cream of tartar and beat with a mixer until foamy. Slowly add the granulated sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Once they have, pour in the dash of lemon extract and whip just to incorporate.

Preheat the oven to 400°F again. Fit a piping bag with a large round tip and fill with meringue. Pipe swirls of stiff, lemon meringue around the lids of the cream puffs and place on a lined baking sheet. You could also dip and swirl the lids into peaks if you want to avoid the piping work. Bake just the meringue-covered lids for about 5-8 minutes until they are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to set and cool while you fill the base of the cream puffs with the chilled lemon chantilly cream. When ready, top each cream puff with a meringue-covered lid and serve.

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Victoria Sponge Cakes

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesLike a lot of people, Bear and I ditched cable a while back and, for the most part, have no complaints! Not having a huge bill is the greatest perk, of course, but so is discovering new shows. This can go either way and, if we’re being honest, at least 20% of what we queue up is for hate-watching; have you re-watched any early 90s cooking shows lately? Hilarious…and also a study in food trends. Ah, the days when the portobello mushroom was “exotic,” as I recently heard it referred to or how we watched an entire show dedicated to the “wonders” of basil. I die.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesRecently, our hunt for new shows of the cooking variety brought us to The Great British Bake Off (GBBO) series, which airs on PBS. Oh my god, you guys, we have lost the last three weeks to watching every single episode in all five of its seasons! It is so, so good! GBBO is a baking competition that follows 12 amateur home bakers through 10 weeks of challenges. Sounds familiar enough to U.S. cooking competition shows, yes? Well, that’s about where it stops. GBBO is wonderfully antithetical to anything you’ve  watched on the Food Network or Fox. It is believable, first and foremost, and the most impressive part about it is how genuinely invested the contests and judges are in the skills and in each other. There’s no “Welcome to the Thunderdome!” element to it, no sabotage, no surprise twist ingredient. It’s just an honest competition with lots of talent and two totally delightful co-hosts. I’m so sad we’ve watched, literally, all of it. Good thing Season 6 starts in just a few months! Eee!

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesAfter watching five seasons of GBBO though, you can imagine that there’s a strong impulse to bake alongside the contestants and try out the (new-to-this-American) confections. Season after season, it seemed as if each had a challenge where the bakers had to make classic Victoria sponge cakes (also called Victoria Sandwiches), a double-layer vanilla sponge cake filled with homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream, and named for Queen Victoria herself. While I was tempted by more complex undertakings, such as brandy snaps and mille feuille, it was the simple Victoria sponge cake I most wanted to try.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesTraditionally, the batter for Victoria sponge cakes is evenly divided into two 8″ round cake pans, but with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I couldn’t resist using my heart-shaped muffin tin. I think I chose right! In tins such as mine, one batch made 24 mini cakes, which is perfect if dividing into small gifts, favors, or serving them alongside afternoon tea, as intended. Of course, these will taste just as delicious as a large two-layer cake in proper English tradition.

Classic Victoria Sponge CakesAt any rate, I hope you’ll try these. The cake itself is so buttery and airy – just strong enough to cradle layers of sweet preserves and a very lightly sweetened whipped cream between its halves. Everyone always says that simple is better and, in this case particularly, it is absolutely the truth. I would take a perfect, tender Victoria sponge cake over something complex covered in salted caramel and spun something-or-other any day – they are so sublime! Happy Valentine’s Day, lovies! xoxo

Classic Victoria Sponge Cakes
Yields one 8-inch double-layer cake or 24 mini layer cakes; recipe only slightly altered from here.

Ingredients
4 eggs
1 cup of superfine sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for whipped cream
1 cup of self-rising flour
1 cup of butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons to butter tins
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of homemade strawberry or raspberry jam (or store-bought with visible pieces of fruit), approximately
1 cup of heavy cream
Powdered sugar for decorating

Directions
Preheat your oven to 355°F. Prepare your tins. If using two 8-inch round tins, cut a round of parchment for each. Butter the bottom of the tins lightly and then lay down the parchment rounds. use remaining butter to spread all over the top of parchment and all around the interior sides of the tin. You may wish to add a slight dusting of flour to these as well for easier removal. If using muffin tins, liberally butter each hole, as well as the area in between each section in case they bake up over their individual spot.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the butter, 1 cup of sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder, vanilla extract and salt. Blend with a hand-mixer until just combined. Do not over-mix or your cakes may sink. Fill your tins evenly and gently smooth the tops with a butter knife or a cake spatula. If you are using muffin tins, each hole needs only to be filled about 1/3 of the way. Place cakes in the oven and gently shut the door. Two 8-inch rounds will take approximately 25 minutes, while those in muffin tins will take approximately 15-20 minutes. Cakes are done when they are lightly browned, pulling away from the sides of the tins, and spring back with a gentle touch.

Allow cakes to cool in their tins for 5 minutes once removed from the oven. Next, transfer to a baking rack and allow to sit until they are cold. When ready to prepare your cakes, pour 1 cup of heavy cream and three tablespoons of superfine sugar into a medium bowl and blend with a hand-blender or a whisk until whipped peaks hold their shape. Under-mixing will cause the whipped cream to ooze out of the cakes once sandwiched and over-mixing will turn the cream to butter.

If you are baking the traditional 8-inch, two-layered Victoria sponge cake, place one layer upside down on a cake plate and spread as much, or as little, jam as you’d like on the top. Repeat with a layer of whipped cream. Affix the top cake layer top-side up and dust generously with powdered sugar. If you are using a muffin tin, slice each cake in half horizontally and fill as described above. Dust with powdered sugar. Store cakes in the fridge for up to 5 days.

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Valentine’s Day DIY Gift Guide

Valentine's Day Gift Guide: DIY Edition

Of the three Valentine’s Day 2015 Gift Guides I’ve done over the past few weeks (check out gifts for your main squeeze & gifts for your BFF!), this one is my favorite – Valentine’s Day DIY Gift Guide! I’ve combed Pinterest, my favorite blogs, and my own archive (Shameless! Absolutely shameless!) to give you the best suggestions for how to make Valentine’s Day a DIY affair this year. With budgets, skill levels, and genders in mind, I think you’ll find this gift guide all you need for making your boo, bae, or bff something special that reminds them of your love and care all 365 days of the year.

I’m in love with all of these DIYs, so I’ll tell you a little bit more about each of them:

1. This DIY Dino Valentine from Lovely Indeed is one of my most popular pins throughout the year. I think what makes it so instantly beloved is the transformation that occurs when you gild something ugly (or ferocious, in this case!) and turn it into something fancy! An ordinary dinosaur toy isn’t anything to look at, but with some gold paint and tiny arms filled with hearts, there’s nothing not to love! This DIY is quick, easy on the budget, and something your valentine will love regardless of age and gender. Imagine leaving this on the desk of your best officemate? Cu-ute!

2. Working with leather is such a popular trend right now and it’s definitely something I want to try in the future. This DIY leather iPad case tutorial from Martha Stewart also features instructions for a wallet, mouse pad, and pencil case, so the sky’s the limit!

3. For the past two years, Bear has added DIY leather key chains to every single list I keep for blog ideas on my desk, phone, computer, or elsewhere. It’s a new year, so I guess I’d better take a hint. This simple tutorial from 17 Apart includes plenty of photos to guide you in creating these functional little charmers. If you want to get fancy, grab a letter and number stamp kit and customize your key chains with initials or a meaningful date.

4. These DIY vanity trays are so quick, cheap, and easy, but look really luxe! They’re one of my most popular DIYs on the blog and have been featured in various spots online. Most recently, these beauties made it into a feature on Elle Decor’s website as one way to spruce up your bedroom in less than an hour. If they’re good enough for Elle, they’re good enough for your valentine!

5. Did you tragically miss out on the gorgeous Multi-color Glitter Stone Stud earrings that Kate Spade carried over the holidays? Me too. If I’m only drawing your attention to this bad news now, I’m so sorry. Not to worry though! This ingenious DIY from Shore Society will have you armed with a pair for your valentine (or yourself – I wouldn’t be able to resist!) in no time and, truly, they look as good as the originals. I’m in love!

6. If your valentine is experiencing winter in a colder climate, these DIY hand warmers are an adorable, loving way to tell someone you think they’re hot! Minimal sewing skills required and the designer, Rae, has even included a printable card to include with the hand warmers explaining how to heat and, well, handle them. Such a thoughtful gift!

7. My Hibernate with Me pillowcases are one of my favorite DIYs ever and I’ve made it so easy for you with images and text you just download and print. Grab some photo transfer printer paper and your iron and you’re in business! These take just a few bucks and less than an hour – they’re beloved by…everyone!

8. I spend so much time ogling projects put out by the contributors of the Purl Bee, the blogging spot from the creators of Purl SoHo, that it’s a wonder that I, myself, am not so much better at knitting, crocheting, and sewing. Truly, I’m a disaster. This Railroad Tote is a fantastic example of why I keep coming back to their site, though – it’s current, super useful, and a project I feel confident trying because of their awesome, step-by-step tutorials. I love that this tote appeals to the masses both in its style and function – what valentine of yours doesn’t need an extra place to stash their stuff or carry home their groceries?

9. The title of this DIY toiletry bag on Polkadot Chair is “Dad’s Travel Bag,” but this case is great for anyone, of any gender, when they’re planning to be out of town. I especially love that creator, Melissa, used such a bold, fun fox pattern on the inside to give it a little something special. This is a perfect Valentine’s Day gift for long distance loves – whether they be boos or friends – to remind them how much you look forward to their next visit.

10. Can you tell I really value organization and things having their place? Here’s a great tutorial for these adorable DIY clay jewelry dishes from Hello Natural. Aren’t they just so sweet with their scalloped edges and bright, bold paint job? These would be great paired with a set of scented tea lights candles so your valentine can use them as a candle dish to light up their bubble baths or in any other part of the house. For a finishing touch, wrap the metal exterior of the tea light with a washi tape that coordinates with the colors you chose for the dish. Instant hit!

I hope these DIY gifts inspire you and make you a hit among all your many loves for the big V-Day. You’ve got two weeks to go – get crackin’, lovies!

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Valentine’s Day Gift Guide for your Best Friend

Valentine's Day 2015 Gift Guide1. Notebooks, Day Planners & Address Books  |  2. Sequin Heart Clip or Pin
3. Handmade Cotton Napkins  |  4. Glass Jewelry Box in Bronze
5. Bon Appétempt: A Coming-of-Age Story (with recipes!) by Amelia Morris
6. I’m not Bossy. I’m the Boss! Mug  |  7. Personalized Stationery
8. Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Film Camera

As promised, I’m posting today with a Valentine’s Day Gift Guide for your Best Friend…or, you know, any friend that you want to show a little love for this time of year. Some of very best Valentine’s Day memories are shared with friends, especially one where a feast was prepared that ended in chocolate lava cakes! Such good memories and, truly, reminders that friends can be the greatest loves of your life. I feel that way about a few of mine.

My gift ideas here span budgets and interests, but I’m particularly drawn toward the cotton napkins from CuteBrightThings for any friend or loved one that likes to cook and entertain. This orange floral set is so bold and gorgeous and at $18 for four, it’s a great gift idea. I’m also loving the jewelry box in bronze from H&M. It comes in a few colors, but the bronze is so pretty and chic. Who doesn’t need an extra holding spot for all of their baubles? Amelia Morris’ cookbook is another idea for the cook in your life, but it’s also supposed to deliver a really lovely story. It comes out next week and I absolutely cannot wait. I’ve been a reader of her blog, Bon Appétempt, for years and her writing is always funny, familiar, and touching. I haven’t bought a cookbook in a long time – I mostly check them out from the library – but this is definitely one I’ll be buying for myself and a friend!

What are you gift ideas for friends on Valentine’s Day? Do you have any friend memories from V-Day’s past?

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Valentine’s Day 2015 Gift Guide

Valentine's Day 2015 Gift Guide

1. Herschel Supply – Little America Backpack  |  2. Snow-Covered iPhone Case by Sarah Montour
3. Classic Wisdom for the Good Life by Bryan Curtis  |  4. Montblanc – Legend Eau de Toilette
5. Foil-Stamped Washington, D.C. Map (other cities available)  |  6. Timex Weekender Watch in Camo
7. Prism Diamond Limited Edition Print  |  8. Milk Glass Cake Plate  |  9. Dessert for Two by Christina Lane
10. Electric Gardens Statement Studs  |  11. Julep’s Glycolic Hand Scrub & Vanish Cuticle Remover
12. The Two-Color Color Block A Satchel from Kate Spade Saturday

I honestly think that 50% of the hype around Valentine’s Day is based on the fact that we all need a little pick-me-up, a little reminder of love, a little sparkle, this time of year. Not only are there now several weeks between us and the holidays – a sad realization that yes, we’re back to the grind for another year – but for many of us, we’re also at least ankle-deep in snow, slush, and the brown-gray dreariness of winter. Just earlier today, I looked out our living room window and gazed upon the street and sidewalks of Minneapolis and compared it to what I can only imagine 19th century city life was like in, say, London – sooty, muddy, messy. I’ve been watching a lot of BBC period dramas lately, guys.

At any rate, with the news that Valentine’s Day is a mere four weeks away, it’s time to start thinking about what you might surprise your great loves with. Flowers and chocolates are all well and good, but something a little bit more personal, maybe even a little glam, is just the thing to turn someone’s February frown upside down. Starting today, I’m releasing three gift guides over the next week to help you navigate the holiday with ease. Each infographic offers fool-proof gifts, across a variety of budgets, for your main squeeze, your bestie, and anyone else whose very presence in your life you want to celebrate. After all, while sold to us as a day for romantic loves, shouldn’t Valentine’s Day really be about telling anyone with permanent residence in your heart how much you adore them? My third infographic later this week will even feature the very best DIY Valentine’s Day gift ideas in a show of solidarity with those that believe the holiday should be detached from consumerism.

In the meantime, though, how about these gift ideas for your main squeeze? How excited would your sweetie be to open that gorgeous foil-stamped map print from Minted (the prism print and the cake plate are from there too – they have such beautiful gift ideas, let alone stationery!)? Or to crack into Christina Lane’s new cookbook featuring small-batch sweets for you and yours; her blog, Dessert for Two, is such a happy, inspiring, and tasty place to visit online. Bear stands by the Timex Weekender watch as a great gift that keeps on ticking – a present from Mom & Dad this past Christmas – and I don’t even bother giving myself a manicure anymore without using the hand scrub and cuticle remover from Julep. They truly improve the lifespan of my nail color and the neatness of the application – special thanks to my friend, Charlotte, for gifting me that duo last summer! Of course, for the purse-carrier in your life, is there anything more gorgeous than that Kate Spade Saturday A Satchel? It’s even on sale right now, though it remains pricey. That fuchsia leather though…droooooling.

Got any great gift ideas I’ve missed? Let me know what you’re eyeing up for Valentine’s Day 2015 – whether for yourself or a loved one!

Up next: Valentine’s Day gift ideas for your best friends! Stay tuned!

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Bagel and Lox Cheese Ball

Bagel & Lox Cheese Ball
As an only child who lives halfway across the country, it’s safe to say that when I go home to visit my family, it’s a pretty big deal. If you’re an SNL fan, you couldn’t have missed this year’s Thanksgiving sketch by the ladies of the cast about heading home for the holidays – Back Home Ballers – which feels like an only slightly exaggerated version of my reality. What can I say? My mom misses me a whole lot (it’s mutual, Mom! Promise!). While home a few weeks ago, I was greeted two Saturday mornings with the biggest perk of being a long distance daughter – fresh-baked Jersey bagels! Still slightly warm in the center, they were perfectly chewy and heavily covered in a dense “everything” style mix of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, coarse salt, garlic, and onion. Gah, so delicious!Bagel & Lox Cheese BallThese bagels reached true “baller” status, though, when my mom broke out the surprise of lox and cream cheese to go along with them. We bonded over this treat when I was little; when the sight and smell of lox saw my dad scurrying from the kitchen with his nose pinched and me following suit just because it seemed the silly thing to do. Left to enjoy her luxe bagel alone, my curiosity eventually got the better of me and I returned to the table one morning and asked my mom for a bite. I had never tasted anything so savory and so delicious! I was hooked and from then on it became a special, once-in-a-blue-moon treat shared between mother and daughter – my dad stayed firm in his position on the matter.

Bagel & Lox Cheese BallWhen I returned to Minneapolis after Christmas this year, I brought back with me some fresh bagels for Bear and I because that’s the kind of girlfriend I am. One who travels with food in her luggage to bring you a familiar taste of home. We gobbled them up in just three days (what? they go stale fast!) and each time I bit into one, I sighed and spoke about the bagel and lox of weeks ago. Laying in bed on the night of the last bagel, I fantasized about the bagel and lox plate at a cafe I used to get here in Minneapolis that was truly a tasty feast, save for the hard, dense bagels they served with it. The Midwest has many perks, but bagels aren’t one of them. At any rate, this bagel plate came with a mound of garlic and dill cream cheese, capers, thinly sliced purple onion, and tomatoes. Mixing and matching ingredients between bites of lox and everything bagel was an indulgent pleasure, but one I’d foregone in recent years because of those disastrous bagels that accompanied it.

Bagel & Lox Cheese BallBut wait – I had cream cheese and purple onion in the fridge…and capers too! I even had, after examining the specifics, all the spices and seeds I’d need to make an everything bagel. All I was missing was the lox itself and that certainly wouldn’t be hard to find. I was onto a re-creation of sorts as I drifted off to sleep. Thing is, though, I knew even as my dreams found me that night that I didn’t want to be bothered making bagels – and anything store-bought out this way was just going to be a cruel, doughy joke even if it was to be smeared with all the right fixin’s. Enter: the bagel and lox cheese ball that came to mind the next morning. Sleep really is good for the brain!

Bagel & Lox Cheese BallIf you’ve spent any time on Pinterest lately, you’ve seen that the humble cheese ball is having a renaissance right now and truly, thank goodness! Why did cheese balls ever go out of fashion? While they might not necessarily be the most chic thing, I’m willing to bet that there’s never any left at the end of a party, no matter what you add to them or what you roll them in. A bagel & lox cheese ball seemed like a natural next step, adding in all the familiar toppings and flavors within the ball itself and covering the whole thing in the crunch reminiscent of my favorite bagel.

It sounded so good in theory, but the execution was tastier than I could have even imagined! All of the flavors I dreamt about, enjoyed around the table with my mom, are right here in this cheese ball. The perfect bite, but wrapped up into one adorable, party perfect sphere! Served with bagel chips or rye crackers, this is the perfect cheese ball for a brunch spread or an afternoon tea party. Won’t you give it a try?

Bagel and Lox Cheese Ball
Yields one cheese ball, approximately 3 inches across

Ingredients
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese, softened
2 Tablespoons of thinly sliced green onions
2 Tablespoons of finely minced purple onion
1 Tablespoon of nonpariel capers, roughly chopped
3 ounces of lox or smoked salmon
Fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 cup of toasted sesame seeds
3 Tablespoons of poppy seeds
2 Tablespoons of dehydrated onion flakes
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1-1/2 teaspoons of coarse salt (I go a little light on the salt because of the salt in the ball itself)

Directions
Leave the cream cheese out to soften for a few hours or microwave for 30 seconds or until soft to the touch and set aside. Slice the green onions, the purple onion, the capers, and the lox. Add all aforementioned ingredients to cream cheese and crack in about half a teaspoon of black pepper. Combine thoroughly together. Put bowl directly into the refrigerator, uncovered, and allow to sit for 30-45 minutes. In the meantime, cut a 14″ piece of plastic wrap and lay on a flat work surface. After the time has passed, remove the cream cheese mixture from the refrigerator and spoon into a big mound in the center of the plastic wrap. Draw sides and edges of the wrap up together toward the center, shaping the mixture into a ball and twist the plastic wrap tightly shut. Finish shaping the plastic wrap-covered ball into as round a shape as possible. Return to a clean bowl where it will help hold the shape and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

While the cheese ball is resting and firming up, prepare the “everything” bagel coating. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dehydrated onion flakes, garlic powder, and salt in a bowl and than pour, in a single layer, onto a baking sheet. Bake in oven for 4-5 minutes or until the mixture is toasted. Keep an eye on these, as they go from toasted to burnt in a second. When finished, remove seeds from pan immediately and allow to cool completely.

When the topping is cooled and your cheese ball has had time to firm up, remove the latter from the plastic wrap and roll in the the toasted “everything” mixture, being certain you cover the cheese ball completely in the topping. Serve immediately.

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Curried Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupHappy New Year, my lovelies! Here’s hoping the first few days of 2015 are treating you very well indeed. I had so many plans for holiday posts – a cute jewelry DIY, a recipe or three – and I got to none of them! Zut alors! While this makes my overachieving brain feel a touch guilty for being neglectful of this space, I also realized that in not doing these things, I spent a lot more time being present with friends and family and just enjoying the season. While this may not bring me blogging fame any time soon, it did lend itself to a restful time, which I was sorely in need of after my teaching wrapped up. At any rate, I return to you with this absolutely delicious curried carrot and sweet potato soup that I hope you’ll love as much as I do!

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupThe time I spent visiting my family this holiday season was such fun and omg-so-decadent. As Italians generally do, we stuffed our faces with some absolutely delicious grub. There were homemade rice balls, giant antipastos, surf & turf, cookies, cakes, an unforgettable banana cream pie. We visited family in southern Jersey and had mozzarella so fresh it was still warm when it hit our tongues! We traveled to see friends in New York and were treated to homemade gyoza that were simultaneously tender and crisp – not to mention porky & gingery! There were cheese balls, charcuterie, towers of pastries, piles of candies! Guys, in the words of Rayanne Graff, “it was a time!”

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupI bet for many of you, though, there is a glaring absence here of fruit and vegetables and while I didn’t at first care too much about this – vegetables with spinach dip count, right? – by my final days, I was a bit alarmed at how meat-cheese-and-sweets-heavy our diets had become. Understandably, my body felt cranky and tired, so when I returned to Minneapolis my first stop was the grocery store where I loaded up on all the produce I could carry. Seriously, the whole bottom shelf of my refrigerator is stuffed full with vegetables and fruit – a sight for the sore eyes of Bear, too, who had eaten a criminal amount of Tostino’s pizza rolls in my absence.

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato SoupAs I stared at my bounty that first night trying to figure out what it was I wanted to eat, I realized that not only did I want something nutritious, I also wanted something well spiced and flavored; something different and brighter than the heavy foods I’d been enjoying the past few weeks. I spied the 5lbs of carrots awaiting me and suddenly was off on a monochromatic dash through the kitchen that found me grabbing sweet potatoes, curry paste, and an orange in tandem with the usual hosts of any savory meal – onions, garlic, and olive oil, among others.

Thirty minutes later, I had this hearty, delicious soup promising to bring me back from the brink of what I can only assume was nearly scurvy and oh goodness, was it just the ticket! Try this curried carrot and sweet potato soup with a drizzle of plain yogurt or sour cream and a garnish of fresh cilantro. It’s a sure pick-me-up and a great, flavorful start to the new year. It got me back on track and welcoming the next 360 days or so and all the splendor they’ll surely bring.

Curried Carrot & Sweet Potato Soup
Yields approximately 4-6 servings

Ingredients
2 medium sweet potatoes
2lbs of carrots
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons of butter
2 Tablespoons of olive oil
1-1/2 Tablespoons of curry paste (or 1 Tablespoons of curry powder)
1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/2 an orange, juiced (approximately 3 Tablespoons)
8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, separated
1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt (I prefer Chobani) or sour cream, plus more for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Salt and pepper

Directions
Peel and roughly chop sweet potatoes and carrots into chunks; try to cut them a similar size to one another so that they cook evenly. In a soup pot, add the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until they’ve begun to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic and sweet potatoes and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Sautée for about 5 minutes and then add carrots. Continue cooking for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the curry & the cayenne pepper and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add 7 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, raise the temperature to medium high and bring to a boil. Give the soup a good stir, add the orange juice, lower the heat to medium low and simmer the soup for approximately 25 minutes. At this point, check the vegetables. If they are soft, you’re ready to move on to the next step. If they still have some resistance to them, cook until done. You want them to be really soft so that they blend up easily.

Remove the soup from the flame and prepare to purée the soup. You can do this a number of ways. I use an immersion blender, but you could also process this in batches in a blender or a food processor. For each, fill your vessel only half full and give it a few pulses before really letting it whirl. Hot liquid expands quickly when agitated and if you don’t use caution, you could burn yourself. If you don’t have any of these appliances, you could also remove all the vegetables from the pot and mash them with a potato masher or use a ricer. When finished, return them to the pot with the liquid and stir until combined. Your soup won’t be as smooth as if you’d used a blender of sorts, but don’t fear – it will still be very delicious!

Once your soup is puréed, check it for salt & add any if necessary. Additionally, consider its thickness. If it’s too much like a purée for your tastes, add the remaining 1 cup of stock in increments until the soup reaches the desired consistency. Next, stir in the yogurt or sour cream and watch your soup take on a new level of velvety. Yum!

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a swirl of yogurt or sour cream and a bit of cilantro. Gobble up.

*Note: This is easily made vegetarian (use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock) & vegan (use vegetable stock, replace butter with oil, and sour cream/yogurt with a dairy-free, soy yogurt).

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