Blueberry Cornbread Griddle Cakes

Blueberry Cornbread Griddle CakesHappy Valentine’s Day, nerds! (I’ve been re-watching a lot of 30 Rock lately, can you tell?) Here we are in February already; the second month of a full-on dumpster fire of a year so far. I, generally, like Valentine’s Day for the heart-shaped everythings and the extra reminders and opportunities to say ‘I love you,’ while also acknowledging it’s yet another holiday rooted in consumerism. Yawn. We all know the story by now. In the midst of so much horrible, though, I’m fully embracing Valentine’s Day this year as a chance to spread some big, fat, queer love all over the place – and I’m starting with these Blueberry Cornbread Griddle Cakes!

Blueberry Cornbread Griddle CakesHere, we have the best of two breakfasts – blueberry pancakes and corn muffins – rolled into one. What’s your favorite part of a cornbread muffin? The lightly browned and buttery edge, of course! And blueberry pancakes? All of those tart, warm berries bursting in each bite, yes? Lucky you, because this recipe has both, plus the usual melted butter and maple syrup, to boot.

Blueberry Cornbread Griddle CakesCould you make these with your go-to cornbread recipe? Yes, I imagine so, but Valentine’s Day is very often on a weekday and who has time for all that measuring when all you want to do is put a plate of heart-shaped griddle cakes in front of your loves, your besties, or your kiddos? No one, that’s who! I’d rather spend that time cooing over someone I adore – Hey, Bear, that’s YOU! – than getting fussy. For this recipe, I rely on a boxed mix because it does the job very well and allows me a great base to throw in a few extra bells and whistles.

Blueberry Cornbread Griddle CakesQuick, delicious, and they just feel so dang special, Blueberry Cornbread Griddle Cakes are my new favorite breakfast treat for any day that needs a little bit more love. And, let’s be honest, that’s most days lately. Happy Valentine’s & Galentine’s to all my many loves – I wish I could have each of you over for breakfast, kisses, and a plate of griddle cakes. Someone bring the bacon and the mimosas!

XOXO

Blueberry Cornbread Griddle Cakes
Yields 6, 4-inch griddle cakes

Ingredients

  • 1 box of Jiffy cornbread mix
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons of butter, melted, plus more for cooking
  • 3/4 cup of blueberries
  • Maple syrup or honey for serving

Directions
In a mixing bowl, combine the contents of the cornbread mix and add the egg, sugar, milk, vanilla, and 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Whisk to combine and let rest 10 minutes. When you’re ready to go, heat a frying pan over medium-low heat and melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Use a 1/4 cup scoop to make round cakes or pour the 1/4 cup of batter into a metal cookie cutter that you’ve placed into the pan. I used a 4″ heart-shaped cookie cutter. Do not add more batter than this, simply use a spoon to push the batter to the edges of the shape to fill it. Once the griddle cake has set, add the desired amount of blueberries to each cake. Allow the griddle cake to cook until bubbles begin to form and break on the surface of the cake.

If you’re not using a cookie cutter to create shapes, simply flip the cake with a spatula. Be gentle. The cornbread texture makes these a little prone to crumbling. If you are using a cookie cutter, test that the batter has cooked enough for you to remove the cookie cutter by raising it slightly and observing whether or not batter begins to run out. When you’re sure it is set, carefully remove the cookie cutter (be careful! it’s hot!) and flip. If your cookie cutter is a little more intricate, it may help to slide the griddle cake still in the cookie cutter onto the spatula and then remove the mold before flipping. Cook griddle cakes an additional minute on the opposite site and then remove from the pan. Follow with another tablespoon of butter and the next batch of cakes. You can keep your cooked griddle cakes warm in a low 170 degree oven.

When ready to serve, top your griddle cakes with an additional pat of butter if desired and drizzle with maple syrup or honey.

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter EggsEvery year when I was a kid, I could count on two things in my Easter basket – marshmallow eggs and maple cream eggs. Each served different purposes. The maple cream Easter eggs were my favorites and what I squealed over even more than finding plastic hidden eggs that held a dollar bill or a tiny toy. The marshmallow eggs were nothing I ever fancied and always found their way into the freezer for my parents to eat instead, transformed into cold little disks to snap between their teeth once I was out of sight. It was more a familial basket in that way.

Maple Cream Easter EggsBut maple cream Easter eggs aren’t always easy to find now, even at Easter. Russel Stover’s makes some yummy ones with a whipped center, but the ones of my childhood were filled with a dense maple filling that resembled a kind of almost nougat. Searches for recipes that might replicate these candies all included nuts in the filling, which sounds delicious, of course, but wasn’t what I was seeking. After getting some inspiration from recipes for what’s known as butter cream eggs and which are, apparently, a really big thing at Easter, I thought I’d try a modified maple variety – and they did not disappoint!

Maple Cream Easter EggsThese maple cream Easter eggs combine some of the very best things in life – sweetened condensed milk, butter, maple extract – along with confectioner’s sugar and a little bit of corn syrup to get a soft, pliable dough that can be easily shaped into eggs, balls, or rolled and cut out with a cookie cutter. I recommend going small on these. I made rather large eggs, I think, because I had Reese’s peanut butter eggs in mind and they’re about 2-3″. The filling in these is much sweeter, so when I make these again, I’ll probably halve the size of each egg because they can overwhelm you quickly. Keeping a small bowl or shaker of powdered sugar around as you handle the dough is essential to keep the dough from sticking to you and everything in its immediate vicinity.

Maple Cream Easter EggsWhen the eggs have had a chance to chill and firm up in the refrigerator, they get submerged in a bath of melted bittersweet chocolate and then garnished with whatever you can dream up. Bear and I decorated these together, which was a comedy of sorts because we’re both pretty messy cooks. We used toasted, chopped pecans, some tinted, unsweetened coconut, and a host of pastel sprinkles I had lying around from the Coconut Chocolate Peeps I made two years back. Needless to say that these toppings were all over the kitchen by the time we were done and I can’t begin to recount all of the weird places we found melted chocolate after. These maple cream Easter eggs came out pretty as a picture though and, more importantly, are a delicious Easter treat to share – or not!

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs

Maple Cream Easter Eggs
Yields approximately 24 2-inch eggs; modified slightly from here.

Ingredients
1-1/2 lbs of confectioner’s sugar, plus more for dusting your hands as you roll
1/4 lb of butter, melted
7 ounces of sweetened condensed milk (half a regular sized can)
2 tablespoons of corn syrup
2 tablespoons of maple extract
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups of bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening, butter, or vegetable oil
Toppings of various kinds: sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut, candies, etc.

Directions
In a mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill the dough for a half hour then remove from fridge, scoop, and shape into eggs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. You can decide how big you’d like the eggs to be. Mine are about 2 inches long here, but moving forward I’d make them about half the size because of how sweet they are. Be sure to dust your hands with confectioner’s sugar as you roll to prevent the eggs from melting into your hands. When your eggs are rolled into shape, chill for an hour. You can roll your eggs 3-4 days in advance if need be and then dip once you’re ready.

Fit a cooling rack inside of a baking sheet and lightly spritz the rack with cooking spray or grease it lightly with a little vegetable oil on a paper towel. When ready to coat your eggs, add 1 tablespoon of shortening, butter, or vegetable oil to the bottom of a small, microwave-safe mixing bowl and then add 1-1/2 cups of chocolate chips, followed by the remaining tablespoon of fat. Microwave for 10 second intervals, stirring after each, until the chips are completely melted and smooth. Submerge each egg in the chocolate and then lift out gently with a fork. Tap the fork on the side of the bowl gently until excess chocolate drizzles off of your egg. Place egg on the greased cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with your desired topping. Repeat with remaining eggs.

Allow chocolate coating to cure for an hour or two or until the chocolate is no longer tacky. Store in an airtight container with layers of wax paper or parchment between layers of eggs and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

DIY Kate Spade Glitter Earrings

DIY Kate Spade Glitter EarringsThese DIY Kate Spade Glitter Earrings are a project I’ve wanted to undertake for two years now – two whole years! The backstory is that three years ago, my eyes landed on the originals around the holidays and I put them at the top of my Christmas list for all to see. Though I received some absolutely wonderful presents that yea, as I do every year (thanks, fam!), these multi-color glitter studs weren’t waiting for me under the tree. “Not to despair!” I told myself, “If not Christmas, then Valentine’s Day!” But many others shared my delight with them and they were sold out everywhere by the start of the new year. Insert: sad trombone.

I searched high and low for over a year with no promise of a return in sight, so I planned and I schemed on how I could recreate them – I just needed the perfect base earrings to build my shimmery beauties. You know how it goes though, life happened and other projects emerged and my idea for the recreation sat idling on the back burner. But finally, in December of this year, I took the bull by the horns and bought a pair of matte faux stone studs for $3.51 from Forever 21 and began auditioning my treasure trove of glitter nail polishes for a good combination.

DIY Kate Spade Glitter EarringsI wanted pink to be more present in my pair than in the originals. I mean, if I had creative control of this process, I thought that I might as well shoot for the moon! I settled on some complimentary glitter polishes that I already owned – namely, Sally Hansen’s Cheery On Top and China Glaze’s Shine-nanigans, which has a lot more depth and pinkness to it than the photo below would suggest. I also selected New York Color’s Wine Bar to up the magenta quotient by using it as a background color to the glitters; I applied it as a base coat since the earrings I upgraded were grayish white.

DIY Kate Spade Glitter EarringsThese DIY earrings require a little patience, as it pays to let the layers of color and glitter set up a bit before applying the next coat. I used a small stiff angled brush to more aggressively push the glitter around to the spots I wanted it and, at the end, I also used it alongside some cotton swabs and nail polish remover to clean up the areas where my handiwork got a little messy. I sealed the earrings not with clear top coat, as one might be tempted to do considering we’re working with a lot of nail polish here, but rather with this amazing glaze by Americana. It took about 24 hours to fully cure, but it gave the earrings a smooth, slightly domed finish just like the originals and also imparted some really great shine.

DIY Kate Spade Glitter EarringsFor those of you prepared to leave me a comment letting me know Kate Spade went and did a girl a solid and re-released these opulent little gems this past holiday season, I know! But I have to be honest: for less than a third of the original price (way less if you use nail polish you already own or repurpose an old pair of earrings), I think this DIY version is a pretty fantastic dupe! Within minutes of wearing them out into the world for the first time, I got three sets of compliments from three entirely different, unrelated people – that equals success in my book! My only regret is not buying more pairs of the Forever 21 studs so that I could recreate these for all of my earring-wearing, glitter-loving Galentines out there – lucky for all of us, they’re still online here. Small miracles, I say!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! XOXO

DIY Kate Spade Glitter Earrings
Materials
One pair of cushion-cut stud earrings; I used these from Forever 21
Your choice of glitter nail polishes (consider one with finer glitter and one with chunky, hexagonal pieces)
A nail polish, or acrylic craft paint, to use for your base color (optional)
Small, stiff angled brush
Cotton swabs
Nail polish remover
Americana Triple Thick Brilliant Brush-on Gloss Glaze
Foam or cardboard to poke the earrings into for ease of handling when painting and for elevated drying

Directions
Remove your earrings’ backs and poke the stems into a piece of sturdy foam or stiff cardboard so that there is at least half an inch between the back of the earring and the surface of the foam/cardboard. This will help keep the earrings elevated and make them easier to maneuver and see all sides as you paint them. If your earrings are a light color or a color you dislike, use a nail polish or acrylic craft paint of choice to apply a thin base coat to the earrings. If you want one color in the glitter polishes to really stand out, choose this as your base color. I chose a magenta polish on my pair as the base. When dry, apply your first coat of glitter polish. Err on the side of lighter coats, of which you’ll need to apply several, as opposed to heavy, gloppy coats. The latter, obviously, takes more time to dry, but I also felt like I had less control over the distribution of the glitter when the top of the earring was overwhelmed by polish. The more lightly you apply the glitter polish, the less chance you’ll have of errant glitter getting stuck to the side and back hardware of the earrings. Repeat your coats of glitter polish using the stiff angled brush to manipulate the glitter into the patterns and positions of how you’d like it to appear.

After you’ve applied your final coat of glitter – I used about 5 coats – allow it to dry and clean up any spots or splatter with some nail polish remover and either the stiff angled brush or a cotton swab. Next, apply the glaze. I was more heavy-handed with the glaze because I knew I’d only be applying one coat. Paint it on thickly and make sure the surface is smooth and completely covered. As the glaze cures it will, initially, turn opaque white and then, as it hardens, it will lighten until it eventually becomes a smooth, clear, shiny casing. It’s amazing how much this glaze took these from an obvious (but still pretty!) DIY to something that looks much more, well, polished!

 

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving

5 Things You Can Do Now for ThanksgivingI’m a little bit giddy about Thanksgiving this year, but not for reasons you might think. Yes, I’ll get to spend it in the company of friends, of people I love, and yes, there will be delicious things to nibble and drink, games to play, and fun to be had with some of my favorite faces. But this year, Thanksgiving, or Friendsgiving as it really is, is the first time in five years that I’m not responsible for the meal – and I’m pretty thrilled about it!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook for my friends, to feed them delicious treats, to decorate my home and make it super inviting, but it’s a lot of work that starts weeks in advance. This year, I only have to bring two vegetable side dishes, my best beau, some board games…and that’s it! That’s all that is required of me! I’m so excited to spend time enjoying my friends and being very present in the moment, as opposed to running back and forth to the kitchen like I normally do when hosting. I’ll be the girl on the couch with her feet up and a glass of rosé in her manicured hand – and I can’t wait!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
But all of my years of hosting in the past have taught me a lot about how to have a beautiful Thanksgiving and what you can do days, even weeks, ahead in order to make the day itself less busy and more enjoyable. Let’s take a look at the 5 things you can do now for Thanksgiving!

1. Prepare your Lists
I’m no one if not someone who loves a list. And while it can get borderline neurotic any other time, if you’re hosting any big event or holiday gathering, organization is key. So get yourself situated early on by preparing your four main lists: guest list, menu, shopping list, and your day-of agenda.

  • Several weeks in advance, you should have a firm sense of who is attending the fête and what they’re bringing. Lock in folks on one item or another based on their strengths. Once you know that one person is responsible for wine and another for their famous pumpkin cheesecake, you’re well on your way to organizing your menu and filling in the gaps.
  • Having a menu in place early on should give you a sense of calm as the day gets closer because you know what’s ahead of you. Building in old reliables that you’re comfortable with executing and the rare new recipe or technique allows you the ability to foresee how to structure your time before and the day itself. You’ll know where you need to build in extra time for your first-time making a meringue-topped dessert for instance versus the mashed potatoes you whip up once a month, that feel like old hat.
  • Planning your menu in advance also allows you to buy responsibly. Thanksgiving – and all holidays – can be expensive for the person hosting. If you take time ahead of time to plan a potluck or to designate specific items or dishes to others, it can alleviate some of the financial strain. If you’re going it alone and intend on not asking your guests to bring anything, planning your menu in advance also gives you time to take stock of what you have already. You’ll know if you’re down to half a bag of confectioner’s sugar or have four pounds stacked up in the back of the pantry.
  • A little planning prevents overbuying as much as it helps you to not miss any key ingredients as you head to the store. Organize your shopping list based on the layout of the spot where you plan to do your shopping. You’ll move through your list faster this way and will be less likely to forget something integral. I always make sure to mark on my shopping list what I have a coupon for or what the sale/deal is so that I’m also certain I’m buying the specific item (the 10oz box versus the 12oz box) that is actually on sale.
  • A day-of agenda for executing the meal itself is where many folks would draw the line with list-making, but I promise you that it’s worth doing – especially if you’re new to planning or cooking a big meal for a crowd. Doing so will allow you to have a schedule to keep yourself to – one that has already considered that the stuffing can go in the oven at the same temperature as the sweet potatoes, but 20 minutes after. A day-of agenda also comes in handy once you’re ready to put all the food out to confirm you haven’t forgotten to warm something or put out the dinner rolls. Consider it a little blueprint to get you through the day.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
2. Ready your serveware, your place settings, and your tools
A week or two before the event is the time to make sure you have everything you need in terms of your tools prior to the event. Take down your platters from the tops of your cupboards, pull out your box of extra wine glasses, dig through your utensil drawer and find the baster and meat thermometer, sharpen your knives. The worst thing is a stressful day before the holiday when you’re scrambling around trying to finish cooking and prepping and you still have to gather together all of the serving pieces you’re going to need the next day. Be good to yourself and take the time to plan so that on the night before, you can order a pizza, maybe trim some veggies, and take it easy. I like to gather all of my plates together, wash anything that got a little dusty during the year in the back of the closet, and then wrap everything in a clean, spare table cloth and keep them on an empty closet shelf.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
3. Wash and press your linens
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a thing for cloth napkins. Do Bear and I use them every day? No, of course not. Laundry isn’t free, nor is it in our apartment, and we’re not jerks. That said, though, I love a cloth napkin when I’m entertaining people, so the week before, I figure out what my table is going to look like and what table cloth and napkins I’m going to use. You know what you don’t want to be doing the night before Thanksgiving? Laundry. Two hours of work weeks ahead of time will save you last-minute annoyance and anguish closer to the holiday. Of course, if you’re thinking of using paper napkins for your event, I say there’s no shame in that. Easy clean-up where you can get it is totally respectable in the face of cooking a huge meal. If linens aren’t where you think your precious time needs to be spent, I get it! No shame!

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
4. Plan your table decoration and layout
A beautiful table doesn’t have to be difficult, elaborate, or expensive. A simple bouquet of flowers separated into smaller, shorter bouquets with a few small tea light candles won’t put you back much and will make you and your guests feel truly special. Pinterest, of course, is a great source of inspiration, so I recommend browsing around in your very early planning stages and getting some ideas. Two things I like to keep in mind as I plan what I’ll have on my table: 1) It’s important for your guests to be able to see each other, so I tend to put together items that aren’t very tall. For Thanksgiving, think pumpkins, gourds, candles shaped like maple leaves, pine cones, etc. An arrangement that includes lower-profile items will be beautiful and won’t risk interfering with conversation. 2) Remember that you’re going to have other things on your table aside from your centerpiece. Be sure you allow room for everyone’s place setting, rogue drinks that make it to the table, extra serving dishes of sides if you’re not buffeting your meal, and elbows! Don’t sacrifice you or your guests’ comfort and ability to stretch out a bit for a really elaborate table design. The whole point of getting together is to enjoy your time together and that’s not possible if you’re getting pushed out by too many wicker turkeys.

5 Things You Can Do Now for Thanksgiving
5. Look to make-ahead dishes
After my first two years of cooking Thanksgiving, it took me about two to three days to fully recover from the amount of work and stress it was – and I was still in my 20s then! But all of that changed as I started to plan better and learned from experience that there were several key parts of the meal I could prepare ahead of time to save me such valuable time. The first? The gravy! Every Thanksgiving I’ve ever had includes this incredible gravy from the one and only Ina Garten. For me, there’s no turkey without this gravy. But you know what? Making gravy in the final moments before your meal goes to the table is hella stressful. It is the worst! So what do I do? I make my gravy two weeks ahead of time and keep it in my freezer. On the morning of Thanksgiving, I thaw it and warm it on the stove (or gasp! In the microwave!) right before we dig in. Sometimes it needs a little whisk or a quick buzz with the immersion blender to bring it fully together, but that’s nothing. Making the gravy in advance is such a time-saver and the result is piping hot, which is never the case when you’re whisking gravy together at the last minute. I make the gravy with drippings from a chicken I roast for dinner a few weeks prior and you’d never know that it didn’t start with a turkey. Take this tip and run with it, seriously!
Cranberry & Clementine Conserve
I also make my cranberry and clementine conserve weeks ahead of time and freeze it as well. For Thanksgiving prep, these containers are your best friends, allowing you to make several different pieces of your meal in advance, and strong enough to withstand the chill of your freezer for a few weeks. Last year, I even made my mashed potatoes a day or two prior (don’t freeze these – the texture will never be the same), smoothed them into a 9×13 pan, covered it tightly with foil, and about 40 minutes out from the meal, I put them oven covered and let them get nice and hot. They fluffed up beautifully as I added them to the serving bowl and there was no last minute mashing and whipping of potatoes either. If you plan a menu in advance, with the possibility of doing some of it ahead of time, you can really take a lot off your plate for the day-of, allowing you to do what you’re meant to: enjoy your friends and family and reflect on how to improve, or contribute more to, our various communities.

Whether you’re hosting your first big meal, bringing a pie, or staying home with take-out and Netflix, I wish you a wonderful, stress-free day of entertainment and one hell of a big piece of pumpkin pie. Enjoy, everyone!

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieTo take one look at this blog, you’d think it was focused solely on desserts these days. Recent posts have included, cider donut shortcakes, cookie butter buckeyes, chocolate cake with burnt oranges – Mom, I promise we’re eating real food, too! Just last week we had escarole and white bean soup one night and Bear made chicken, sweet potato, and kale enchiladas the next. It’s fall, though, and with it comes the push for food that comforts and that wows a holiday crowd. Which is what we have here – a real showstopper of a dessert for either Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving if that’s more your speed, as it is mine) or the winter holidays: Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie!

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieWhaaaaaat? You didn’t know Trader Joe’s has updated its year-round classic cookie spread and infused it with the official flavor of Fall, pumpkin spice? Let me save you any question that this might not be the most perfect marriage – it is on par with love of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. If you’ve never had cookie butter – or speculoos spread, as it’s called in most of the world outside of the U.S. – it’s ground, spiced graham cookies that are crushed and blended to form a thick peanut-butter-like paste. My personal favorite part of speculoos spread, or cookie butter, are the little tiny crystals of undissolved cookie throughout – it takes any apple slice, waffle, or PB&J to another level.

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter PieWhen I saw this Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter at Trader Joe’s a few weeks ago, I figured we’d just eat it as is, spread on whatever vehicle selected to get it into our mouths fast enough. “Maybe,” I said to a skeptical-of-all-things-trendy Bear, “we can blend it into a smoothie with bananas!” But once home, I found myself thinking of something seasonal to do with it. It is pumpkin spice, after all, and we’re coming up on holidays where you might need to bring a dessert to a party. Sure, you could bring a traditional pumpkin pie – they’re delicious – but you could also bring a Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie that tastes like the old standard and gingerbread cheesecake had a baby. I vote for the latter!

While this certainly isn’t my prettiest pie crust (don’t be like me and forget to chill your pie dough before you bake it), it hardly even matters when you have a filling this good. Cream cheese adds a velvety-ness to the mix and a slight tang, while freshly blended and barely sweetened whipped cream lightens things up to a beautiful not-quite-airy, but mousse-like texture. If you’re looking for a little something different in a Fall dessert, try this pie – it’s creamy and dense, easy to make-ahead (pop it in the fridge or freezer), and a delectable new version of a Fall classic.

Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter Pie
Yields one 9-inch pie

Ingredients
1 fully-baked pie crust, cooled completely
8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1-1/3 cup of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter
1 cup of confectioner’s sugar
1-1/2 cups of heavy cream
1/4 cup of granulated sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the heavy cream and the granulated sugar and whip until peaks form; the peaks should stand on their own when the beaters are removed. Refrigerate the whipped cream while you prepare the next step. In a larger bowl, use a hand-mixer to combine the cream cheese and the pumpkin spice cookie butter. Once combined, slowly add in the cup of confectioner’s sugar and blend completely.

Remove the whipped cream from the refrigerator and fold two-thirds of it into the cookie butter mixture. Be gentle so that some of the air of the whipped cream is left behind and aerates the pie filling. Once combined, pour the mixture into the pie crust and allow to set for at least 2 hours before serving. You can use the remaining whipped cream to top the pie or serve on the side. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days.

This pie can be made up to two days in advance if kept in the refrigerator and can also be frozen two weeks prior to when you might need it. To make 2 days ahead, fill the pie crust, but do not add the whipped cream. Wrap tightly with foil and keep cold in the back of your refrigerator. Prior to serving, make fresh whipped cream for top. If freezing, fill the pie crust and skip the whipped cream on top. Wrap the pie tightly in plastic wrap and then again in heavy-duty aluminum foil to keep out frost – the double layer of protection is a must. Defrost on the counter for an hour before serving and make fresh whipped cream to top.

Cider Donut Shortcakes

Cider Donut ShortcakesBear is many things, but a baker is not one of them. Not because he can’t manage a hand-blender or feels it might threaten his masculinity (gasp!), but because it requires patience to measure, to sift, to leaven. I stray from baking for long periods of time myself because of this need to be so precise with it. Ultimately, though, I find my way back, take a few deep breaths, run off my Italian impulsivity, and get back to leveling, weighing, and timing rises and bakes down to the minute.
Cider Donut ShortcakesThree years ago, Bear was trying to come up with a birthday cake idea for me, but was overtaken with nerves that his lack of patience would win out and he’d wind up with a failed dessert. I was serious when I said he could just buy a box of donuts, but he was suspicious of being let off the hook that easily. Creativity was quick to strike, though, and on my 32nd birthday, the strawberry donut shortcake was born – a fluffy, glazed donut split in half and filled with wine-macerated berries and homemade whipped cream. Is that Bear a catch, or what? It’s such a special, over-the-top treat, that I’ve requested it for birthdays 33 and 34, as well.
Cider Donut ShortcakesBut once a year seems so long to wait for a donut-turned-layered-cake dessert, doesn’t it? Who wants to wait for a whole rotation around the sun to gently saw through a pillowy donut and stuff it with cream and fruit? What of the many seasonal varieties of treats that could be made in such a similar fashion?

Cider Donut ShortcakesThat’s how we got here, folks, to Cider Donut Shortcakes – your newest, easiest Fall dessert to have on hand for any day of the week from September through November. Do you know how people squee for these? The excitement of the donut itself – cakey in texture, but crisp with its cinnamon and sugar sprinkle – surrounding a giant ball of vanilla ice cream that’s slowly melting beneath a syrup of sauteed apples with cinnamon and cardamom? Your loved ones will lose their minds – and you won’t have to measure anything more than a little sugar and a little spice to pull your apples together! Try these soon before cider donut season wraps up and let me know what other varieties these shortcakes might inspire in you – I’m all ears!

Cider Donut Shortcakes
Yields two apple cider donut shortcakes

Ingredients
2 cider donuts
1 pint of vanilla ice cream
2 granny smith apples, skinned & cored, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of apple cider (apple juice or water would work fine too)
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of cardamom
Pinch of salt

Directions
Slice the donuts in half from side-to-side and set aside. In a sauce pan, melt butter on medium-low while slicing apples. Allow to brown gently and when bubbles cover the surface of the butter, add in the brown sugar, apples, salt, and spices. Raise the heat to medium and sautee for 2-3 minutes. Add in the apple cider and stir to combine, then allow to cook for an additional 5-7 minutes, stirring only occasionally. The apples should become fairly soft, but not mushy, and the liquid should thicken into a syrupy consistency. It will become more dense as it cools. Remove from heat as you scoop two, rounded mounds of ice cream and place on the bottom half of the donut. Flatten the top just enough for it to hold some apples as you spoon them onto the top of each ice cream ball. Be liberal with both the apples and the syrup. Place the other donut half on top and serve immediately.

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.

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!

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?

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!