Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Greatest Hits

Do I look excited about Halloween, or do I look excited about Halloween?  Age two and I'm a...pirate?  I can't say that you can really tell in this picture, but it appears as such.

The next three pictures all were when I was four.  Apparently it was a good Halloween year for me.  Good ole 1986.

It appears the standard witch costume scored me some serious loot.  When you're four it's hard not to be handed candy.  What kid isn't cute in a costume?

I'm guessing this extraneous costume was for...preschool?  I believe it was the standard gypsy look.  My mom had some amazing scarves though, that's for sure.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

As my secretary burst into my shared office demanding, "Did one of you guys make the cupcakes?" I knew my cover had been blown.  Obviously everyone reading this blog knows how much I love cooking and baking, but as you can imagine, I don't exactly hand out this url to my coworkers.  I will chat about my love for food and maybe even cooking, but not too much.  I certainly don't tell people on a Tuesday night that I'm going to go home to bake some pumpkin cupcakes.

Maybe I'm overly paranoid or something from my days at a New York law firm, but bringing in baked goods was certainly something no partner would do and not really something an associate would do either.  Sure, in my office in California we do get homemade baked goods left on the counter sometimes, but so far they have all been from an associate's wife.

So on a couple of occasions when I've baked something with too many extras for even John to bring to work, I will secretly sneak my baked goods into the kitchen, place them on a paper plate, and then dash back to my desk with my Snapware.  Apparently that trick isn't going to work anymore, as the whole office found out I was the provider of the pumpkin cupcakes.

After my secretary burst in to find out if me or my officemate made the cupcakes, she gushed about how great they were and demanded I make them every day until Halloween.  I laughed and said I would do my best.  Then somehow everyone else that had a cupcake found out I was the secret mid-week baker and kept coming by to thank me as well.  That was nice of course, but I am still crossing my fingers that my boss didn't catch wind of my baking.  I don't want him thinking "Is that why she ducked out of work at 5:30 yesterday?"

I have absolutely no problem being the baker wife providing cupcakes for John to bring to work.  I've been doing that for awhile now, and everyone there is fully versed in my baking repertoire.  John emailed me the "early reports" on how the cupcakes were being received at his job as of 9:48 AM.  They were:

1.  "Do you contribute anything to your marriage, or is it all just your wife?"
2.  "See, this is a good reason to go to law school.  If you hadn't gone to law school, you never would have met your wife, and I wouldn't be eating this delicious cupcake right now."
3.  "Tell your wife she is awesome."

Yes folks, these cupcakes are that good.  I promise they will bring rave reviews from your family and any coworkers you choose to share your baking habits with.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen


Makes 18 cupcakes

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned pumpkin

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins with muffin cups.  Using a stand mixer, beat softened butter with the brown and granulated sugars until fluffy (about 5 minutes).  Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl.  Add the eggs one at a time to the butter mixture, scraping down the sides in between eggs.  Mix 1/2 cup buttermilk with 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures to the butter and egg mixture. Make sure to start and end with the flour mixture.  Beat in 1 1/4 cups pumpkin until smooth.  Scoop the batter into the muffin liners until each is three-quarters full.  Rap the pans on the counter to pop any air bubbles.  Bake until a toothpick can be inserted and come out clean, 20-25 minutes.  Cool cupcakes completely on a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Icing:

1 8oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Beat softened cream cheese, softened butter, and confectioners' sugar together until fluffy.  This will take several minutes.  Taste to see if more sugar is needed . Ice cupcakes only when they are complete cool.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Natalie and Mitch: The Wedding

We spent Saturday night celebrating the beautiful wedding of our close friends, Natalie and Mitch.  I took more pictures than ever before at a wedding (I think I figured out how to set my camera properly, finally), and hopefully I managed to capture the event appropriately.

When the invitation is this cute, it obviously needs to be captured in a pre-wedding picture.

My date!  It was a bit rainy that afternoon, but we managed to find seats under an umbrella.

I'm not sure if their photographer actually snapped the picture he was posing for in this shot, but I obviously snapped mine!

John and I couldn't get over the cuteness of this baby who was wearing a matching tie-onesie for the tie his dad was wearing.

And the big show begins!

The rain cleared up just in time for the beautiful bride to enter.

I always love the father giving the daughter away bit.

There were some tears and laughter in the sweet ceremony.

The new husband and wife were off, with Mitch already lending a helping hand.

The tiered yard at the vineyard made for a fun exiting view.

Bud vases as the thank you gift were unbelievably cute.

Natalie did her own flowers too.  Pretty amazing!

Each table was designated by its own Bay Area icon.  We were the Golden Gate Bridge...because Natalie asked me which one I wanted to be, and how could you not choose the Golden Gate Bridge?

The adorable menu foretold the great food we'd be having.

As did the impressive cupcake tiers.

Red velvet, don't mind if I do.

Chocolate with cream cheese icing: a concept that needs to find its way into more cupcake shops immediately.

John and I had a hard time waiting to eat said cupcakes, but somehow I managed to pull him away.

A new last name!

Their guest book involved making scrolls on printed paper and writing a message to the happy couple.  Mine said something to the effect of "You owe us for LIFE," since they did meet at our wedding.

The cocktail hour highlight was the unbelievably delicious cheese spread by Mitch's "cheese guy," John Raymond.  I think everyone went back for seconds, at least.  Eve went back for thirds.

The glowing bride looked amazing.

I wish more of our friends got married in California, so Eve had an excuse to come out more often!

I forgot to get a picture with Mitch, but at least I got one with Natalie.

The bride and groom did manage to act cute when I had my camera out, though.

Pictures of people dancing always capture them at their best.  This one of Mike is no exception.

Eve was definitely happy once the dancing started.

Ann has apparently caught the bouquet at three weddings in a row.  Her boyfriend is getting the hint, I think.

This picture was snapped before the cake-smashing portion of the evening began.

We got the finish the night with the real San Francisco treat (forget Rice-a-Roni), It's Its!  I've never had an ice cream sandwich at a wedding before, but I think I might demand them from here on out.

What a great night!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Metallic Lip Gloss + Eve

Eve is visiting from DC this week, and her visit coincided with the arrival of a disc my dad sent me containing pictures he entitled "Teen Years."  Yikes.  There are many pictures of me and Eve striking a pose, most of them much worse than the one above.

Apparently I had a thing for metallic lip gloss and smiling with my mouth closed in high school.    Let's all be glad I've moved past that.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Paris, London, Tiburon

Early last week John told me not to make plans for Saturday night because he was going to surprise me.  He gave me no hints other than to tell me we needed to leave at 4:00 and that it would take an hour and a half to get there.  The night before over a dinner of pork chops and Brussels sprouts I told him my guess.

While I couldn't remember where the boat left from or where it went once it left, I knew there was some sort of sunset cruise near Sausalito.  As it turns out, that sunset cruise leaves from Tiburon, just another cute town in Northern California.  I found this out because, like many other times, I was able to spoil my own surprise.  About a year ago John planned a surprise date to go see Wicked, except I guessed what it was before he even had a chance to taunt me.  That's the problem with being married, surprises are hard to pull off when you know each other so well.

After gawking at the cuteness of Tiburon for a few minutes, we came upon this t-shirt.  I am still plagued with regret I didn't get it.

"The Candy Store on Main Street" would need a miniature candy village in the window, wouldn't it?

I forgot the "best" part of our super surprise date, though.  I get pretty sea-sick on boats, so John reminded me to bring/take my motion sickness pills.  Despite this reminder, I forgot them at home.  Halfway into our drive I realized it, and we figured we could pick some up in Tiburon.  No can do.  There is no pharmacy in Tiburon and the grocery store carries nothing of the sort.  We made a mad dash for the Safeway in Strawberry, but weren't able to make it there in time to find some pills.

(Note the San Fran skyline waaaaay off in the background of the picture above.)

So instead of going on sunset cruise, we watched the sunset from a bench, eating candy from The Candy Store, and accompanied by a Google blanket.  It was still pretty amazing.

Here is the boat we should have been on, despite my best attempts to ruin our plans.  It was the last weekend for the sunset cruise this year, so I guess now we have something to look forward to next year, right?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Peanut Butter Blondies with Chocolate Ganache

Sometimes I fantasize about living abroad for a few years...or maybe forever.  My parents spent three years in Italy, and growing up I heard countless stories about how wonderful it will.  Those three years coincided with their last three years before kids.  Hmm...maybe that's why they loved it so much.

My living abroad dreams usually come to a crashing halt when I remember, "Wait, don't they not really have peanut butter in other countries?"  And even worse, "In other countries I hear they've never tried peanut butter and chocolate together."  Travesty, people!

I'm always up for trying new chocolate-peanut butter recipes, and how can you not be tempted by a peanut butter blondie with chocolate chips...

and chocolate ganache.  You can't!

Chocolate ganache might just be the best icing on the planet.

Chocolate, cream, and a bit of butter.  Yes, please.  

These blondies taste exactly like they look in this picture.  Rich, delectable, and full of peanut buttery-chocolate goodness.  God bless America.

Peanut Butter Blondies with Chocolate Ganache

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs and one egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
9 oz. (1 1/2 cups) semisweet of bittersweet chocolate chips

9 oz. (1 1/2 cups) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 13 x 9 inch pan, line with parchment, and then butter the parchment.  

Beat butter and sugar together in a stand mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy.  Add peanut butter and beat until incorporated.  Add two eggs, one egg yolk, and vanilla and mix thoroughly.  Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in flour until just combined.

Mix in 9 oz. (1 1/2 cups) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips with a spatula and then spread in buttered baking pan.  Smooth out the thick cookie-like batter with a knife.  Bake until brownies are golden brown, 40-45 minutes. A toothpick inserted will come out with just a few crumbs.  

Cool blondies completely, at least 1 1/2 hours.  

To make ganache, place 9 oz. (1 1/2 cups) semisweet chips in a heatproof bowl.  Bring cream to a boil in small saucepan and pour over chocolate chips.  Let it sit for 1 minute and then whisk in 1 tablespoon of softened butter.  Keep whisking until smooth.  

Spread ganache over cooled blondies and let sit for 15 minutes before slicing into tiny squares.  Store for a few days in an air tight container or put the extras in the freezer.  
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