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.