Sunday, December 16, 2012

chocolate cupcakes with cookie dough frosting & fudge brownie bites

Am I serious with this cupcake right now? What kind of munchy monster would create such a decadent, over-the-top indulgence? Apparently I would, because I not only dreamed up the idea, but also saw it through to completion (big step!). It started with wanting to try cookie dough frosting. Then it needed to be paired with chocolate, and lots of it. And well... why not throw a fudge brownie in the mix as well, just for kicks. Do I even have to tell you that these were freaking fantastic? Definitely not when you can so clearly see it for yourself. Yum. Yum. Yum. The presentation is just jaw-dropping, and I know everyone at our work holiday party will be beyond thrilled to indulge.

I used a pretty standard chocolate cupcake recipe, but to be honest, I'd probably just use boxed mix next time to make this process a little easier. Thankfully, the cupcakes themselves had a nice mild chocolate flavor that helped tone down the overt richness of the final product. I did use a boxed fudge brownie mix for the brownie bites because I'm not a complete sadist.

After a little research, the cookie dough frosting became an amalgamation of several recipes, tweaked to my liking (to avoid sickly sweetness, believe it or not). One slight but crucial change I made to these formulas was the addition of lemon juice to cut through the cloying sugar. I have to admit, it was a genius idea that took the frosting from passable to lick-the-bowl-clean in no time. My favorite part of cookie dough is the slight crunch of mini chocolate chips so I added those as garnish. Then I thought to myself: there is clearly not enough s%#& piled on this dessert yet, so I drizzled it with ganache. Hello, heaven.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Cookie Dough Frosting & Fudge Brownie Bites
Makes 24 cupcakes

24 chocolate cupcakes (sample recipe here)
Baked brownies (store-bought, boxed, or from scratch; whatever you prefer)
Cookie dough frosting, recipe below
1/3 cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips for garnish
4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream

Allow both baked cupcakes and brownies to cool to room temperature. Cut brownies into 1" cubes. Prepare cookie dough frosting, and ice cupcakes generously. Sprinkle evenly with 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips.

Make the ganache: heat 4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips and 1/4 cup heavy cream over a double boiler, stirring frequently, until it reaches a smooth consistency. Drizzle evenly over cupcakes.

Cookie Dough Frosting
Adapted from Tidy Mom

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup flour
3 T. heavy cream
3 t. vanilla extract
1 t. lemon juice
1 t. salt

Using a mixer at medium speed, beat butter until soft and creamy, approximately 1 minute. Add all other ingredients, and beat until thoroughly combined and fluffy in texture. Icing should form stiff peaks.

not your ugly sweater

I love holiday parties; I really do. This year has been sadly sparse for festive fetes, in part because 90% of the people I know in Maryland are Jewish, and in part because 90% of us are also temporarily poor (thank you, residency!). I'm not really big on "ugly sweater parties"; I see their appeal to be sure, but I tend to jump at any opportunity to dress up. I prefer a dress code to be simply holiday-themed. Of course I didn't prepare for the holidays in any real way, so I had to throw together a Christmas outfit last-minute, and ended up loving it! 

I used the hook of a Christmas tree ball to secure three small ornaments together and onto a bobby pin. I made a very unfussy (aka I had already had a few cocktails and twisted it up quickly) top knot, inserted the bobby pin, and voila! Paired with a sweet, feminine green top and a red lip, it made for a perfectly spirited, and best of all cheap, party get-up. Also, how can you not love my handsome boy? I could smooch him for hours and hours and hours... but don't worry, not on the lips. Happy Holidays!

Top: Oasis (purchased in Dublin last fall)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

pear, grape & blue salad with maple vinaigrette

Admittedly, I am not a huge fan of fruit in salads. I don't go gaga over summer strawberry salads like the rest of the crazed Panera patrons come warm weather, but fall and winter fruits I can actually get behind. I love pears and bleu cheese. I love grapes and bleu cheese. So I figured I might as well give it a go. The salad actually made for a really delicious lunch (shh... pretend I didn't eat it with Doritos), and I absolutely plan to make a larger batch of it again to eat throughout a work week. Also, this dressing was delicious; I really, really loved the combo of the maple and Dijon. If you take nothing else from this post, make the vinaigrette!

P.S. Have you seen these? They are perfect for packed lunches: grapes and dressing in the smaller compartments, salad in the other, then combine at lunch time.


Pear, Grape & Bleu Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

Maple Vinaigrette
Makes enough for several salads  
    4 T. EVOO
    3 T. Dijon mustard
    2 T. apple cider vinegar
    4 t. pure maple syrup
    Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Whisk together all ingredients until emulsified. Can be made ahead of time. Serve approximately 2-3 T. per salad, reserve remainder for later use.

Pear, Grape & Bleu Salad
1 large salad serving
    2 cups baby spinach
    1/2 Bartlett pear, or other variety
    10 grapes, halved (approximation, haha, didn't count grapes)
    1 oz. Bleu cheese, crumbled
    1/4 cup walnut halves, optional
    Maple Vinaigrette, see above

Salad can be made ahead of time by combining all ingredients except grapes and vinaigrette. When ready to eat, toss with grapes and vinaigrette.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

subtle sparkle

I'm truly terrible at painting my nails. I shouldn't be, really. I'm artistic, my entire profession is based on fine motor skills, and I'm good at most detail-oriented tasks. There is one other factor, though: I'm lazy and I really don't care that much. Anyone who knows me would probably describe my nails as tattered, chipped, and an all-around mess. But I do really love my Urban Outfitters polish called Ashtray (lovely, I know), so I decided to go for it. Then I thought, let's sprinkle some gold glitter on there too; why not? They still look like a bit of a hot mess, but the idea was a solid one. Just paint two coats of polish, and while the second one dries, sprinkle some glitter on the cuticle area. Ta da! A little holiday cheer.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

boordy vineyards

Adam and I decided a few weekends ago to finally visit a popular Maryland winery called Boordy Vineyards, situated just outside of Baltimore. Thanks to some expert timing (alright, it was just good luck), it was an insanely beautiful November day, with abundant sunshine and only a slight chill to the air. The winery itself actually far exceeded our expectations. I wasn't sure what to picture when conjuring an image of a Baltimore vineyard (odd, no?); however, the establishment was pleasantly quaint and rustic, and situated on a beautiful isolated plot of land. The wine shop was cozy, featuring an outdoor patio with fire rings and tables for enjoying wine, cheese and accoutrements. It was a truly enjoyable atmosphere for a fun  and relaxing afternoon.

For only $5 we received a wine tasting of six Boordy wines of our choosing, and a guided tour of the vineyard and facilities. We even learned a good deal about wine in general. Not to mention, they allow you to buy a bottle and uncork it for drinking on the patio and during the tour. Each bottle in their Landmark series features engravings of iconic Maryland wildlife, which I of course adored. Who doesn't love a local icon? Overall, it was an entirely enjoyable experience, and I look forward to returning for some vino with the ladies when the weather turns a corner in the spring.

Monday, November 26, 2012

my week in photos {11.26.12}

a stunning pennsylvania sunset
There's always something nice about being out of touch with the world and, for me, putting down my camera for once. I'm definitely a photo-taking fiend, but once in a while I finally put down my favorite toy and relax. Thanksgiving weekend was a very nice one, spent with Adam and my family in Pennsylvania. Spending quality time with my niece, who is somehow already seven, is one of my favorite things to do. It doesn't get much better than curling up on the couch with a sweet little girl watching Brave on a lazy Friday off of work. I can't change my picture-snapping ways completely though, so here's a little iPhone glimpse into the holiday weekend. I hope you all had a wonderful time with loved ones, and are managing to avoid a serious case of the post-holiday Mondays.

playing all glam {obviously just playing, we know the truth}
wall of pennsylvania trees that feels like home
our own family bloody mary bar
adam and my niece, kennadi (minus one front tooth)
the sweetest note found on kennadi's "school" board
another sunset pic, because one just wasn't enough

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

{last-minute} thanksgiving tips

Well, it looks like it's about time for another last-minute-holiday post crunched into the mix right before Thanksgiving. I've realized over the past few days that people really love Thanksgiving, and that they love it a lot more than I do. Thanksgiving is okay (don't get me wrong, I appreciate the two days off of work), but it's far from my favorite. I'm never really prepared for it in any way, which is fine since my mom does literally all of the work, but I always wish that I had taken the time to at least make a cool side dish. Last year, I did make an amazing turkey for a pre-holiday potluck. Seriously, amazing (thank you Alton Brown). This year, we'll just drive to PA to see my family and let my mom do her thing. Here are some tips to help Thanksgiving go smoothly, whether you're in charge or following someone else's lead.

1. Learn how to fake a clean house.
2. Add flavor to blah gravy with a splash of sherry or Madeira while heating.
3. Or, try a sprig of sage.
4. Buy brie. Why? Leftover turkey + cranberry + brie grilled cheese. Yep.
5. Select a nice pinot:  a crisp grigio to balance dry turkey, or a berry-ripe noir.
6. Mix Rumchata with your coffee. With family, you might need it.
7. Add a seasonal leaf to each place setting for last-minute decor.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

confused, astonished, inspired

I have absolutely no idea whatsoever where November has gone. I feel like a broken record saying this, as I come around to this idea every few months or so (am I just getting old?). But, seriously, what is happening? I knew I had taken a little accidental blogger vacation due to my distaste for darkness settling in at 5:00pm here in Baltimore. I mean, come on! Light sufficient for photos is hard enough to find in our tiny apartment when it's actually sunny; what's a girl to do when it's already too dark for anything postable by the time she's home from work? Oh, and there's the laziness. There's always the laziness.

On another note, I've realized through my blog perusing habits that most of my favorite posts by other bloggers are their roundups of things that just plain made them happy. So here goes nothing as I jump back into the Gingersnaps saddle with some fun things that piqued my interest across the web.

This fun-to-play-with site for personalized vacation inspiration (seriously, try it out).

These unique and adorable ankle boots.

A skirt that nails not one, but two, current trends.

My go-to site for easy photo editing (and no, it's not Instagram).

A great new brand made especially for gifts, just in time for the holidays.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

festive fall hues

similar shirt // cords // similar wedges

Over the past few weeks, our beloved neighborhood has been graced with an amazing array of brightly hued leaves. The weather has been perfect, with warm sun shining through the colorful branches, so jackets have remained tucked away at home. One trendy tree in particular has even taken on a deep oxblood and burnt orange hue. Oxblood and color clashing? This tree is on point. Taking inspiration from my neighborhood friend, I decided to try out this unusual color combo myself, and I really liked the result. As it turns out, fall's color clashing trend is a great way to remix those tired pieces slumped in the bottom of the closet.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Fall Salad Mixer

I am going to be perfectly honest with you right now: I am proud of this genius idea. After seeing a seasonal salad on a local restaurant menu this weekend, then trying to remember and subsequently forgetting the exact ingredients, I started thinking about what ingredients just scream fall. Somehow not only seasonal fruits and veggies represent the time of year; nuts, cheeses, and even dressings can fit the theme.

Any Pinterest addict will tell you that this season is bursting with amazing, hearty salads that are brimming with fall flavors. Sometimes, though, following an exact recipe is annoying when you could just as easily whip up your own with either what's on hand, or simply what you love to chow down on. You can even say it's all in the name of healthiness. It is a salad after all, right?

This diagram could have been made with text alone, but I thought that adding pictures would help to plan a salad that's not only tasty, but also visually appealing. A dish that boasts a rainbow of autumnal colors just plain makes me happy. I'll be following my own instructions over the next few weeks and posting some inspired salads, while hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

Friday, October 26, 2012

perfect for fall

shoes c/o Stella Says Go // blouse // scarf // pants

I've always been a sucker for a statement shoe; even when a shoe matches negative one item in my closet, I will still pine for them simply because they're beautiful. When the awesome girls at Stella Says Go introduced me to Jeffrey Campbell's Perfect, my first thought was "holy #*$@ how will I walk in these?" My second thought was wondering how a neutral-colored shoe could make such a statement. As it turns out, the serious platform makes them walkable (okay, not for miles, but reasonable outings), and the style begs to be noticed. The beautifully intricate lace-like embroidery doesn't hurt either. Paired with some vegan leather skinnies, a neutral blouse, and a scarf with just a hint of color, they were perfect for a warm and sunny fall day.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

follow my fall faves

For some reason, I always cringe when I catch myself in an accidental alliteration. I'm not sure why, but it always sounds odd. Even when I typed "Follow my Fall Faves" I didn't like it, but I kept it anyway just to prove to my weird, quirky self that I could. Moving on. I love Pinterest for many reasons, but one of them is that it simultaneously aids and diminishes my online shopping sprees. Collecting items on a pin board lets me pretend I'm actually shopping, and occasionally satisfies that urge, but it also prompts me to shop smarter. If something sits on a pin board for a while and I'm still dying to own it, then I know it's at least somewhat worth buying. So here are some of my seasonal favorites for you to check out, and maybe even shop for yourself.

Monday, October 22, 2012

sweaters, studs & stephenie

Joining the website Shoedazzle a few years ago turned out to be an absolutely terrible idea. Enticed by the thought of new $40 shoes each month, I somehow thought that subscribing to something endorsed by Kim K. was a solid plan. After three straight pairs of painfully unwearable shoes, I quit that service and begrudgingly donated some unworn purchases to Goodwill. 
Then ShoeMint came around. Rachel Bilson instead of Kim? Steve Madden designing the shoes? I was willing to give this idea another go, and I'm glad I did. The shoes are still reasonably priced, comfortable, cute, and actually well made. My most recent purchase was the adorably studded Stephenie Boot, and it is already becoming my go-to for fall. They have a slightly harder look to them, so I kept it girly with a top knot and feminine sweater. Now if only I could program my TV to never play one of those awful Shoedazzle commercials again. Ever.

sweater // pants // bag // boots // earrings

Friday, October 19, 2012

j. crew coats of color

This image from J. Crew's new campaign advertising color, color, color is pretty much my dream. This whole color scheme just calls to me in every possible way. Ok, so the other colors are amazing too. and actually perhaps more wearable, but this particular image just made me happy. Here are some of their amazing new coats, in plenty of time for winter (my last real winter ever!).

Tipped Peacoat
Bow Coat
Boulevard Trench

Funnel Coat
Cocoon Coat

Peplum Coat