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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whoopie!! I Did It!

I finally got on the whoopie train... the whoopie pie train, that is. Don't you know, they're all the rage. The whoopie pie is the new cupcake, and they're popping up all over the place. Even Crate and Barrel is selling a whoppie pie cookbook, whoopie pie mixes, and a special whoopie pie pan. But I used none of those... I'm hard core like that. 
In case you live under a rock or don't happen to DVR the Martha Stewart show, these are whoopie pies.
Picture from Crate&Barrel
Some of you may remember that I make cookie box gifts each year for Christmas. It's a (relatively) inexpensive thing I do at the end of the year to thank those that I've worked with or to give to special friends. As is tradition, I typically pull out the big guns each year, creating the most advanced and multi step cookies for the treat bags. Like these that I made 3 years ago:
Each one of these cookies involved layering 9 rolls of dough together to create a checkerboard design and then slicing the dough for the cookie... Don't worry if you don't follow that, the recipe is rated Advanced.
Picture from Martha Stewart.

I decided to do the whoopie pie this year... and I know what you're thinking. It's not as easy as it looks. I was concerned about 2 things. One being how I would achieve the perfect circle shapes with my batter and the second being how I would fill the cookies and not make a mess all over the place. I will tell you how I prevented both of these things from happening. First of all, I used this recipe for the chocolate cakes from, which is a great website to find tried and true recipes. It's basically a compilation of recipes from Bon Appetit Magazine, Gourmet Magazine, and a few others. I always look on here when I'm searching for "the best" recipe. Another perk of epicurious are the reviews. Whenever I'm choosing my recipe, I look at the reviews as well, which will have tips and tricks from people who have made the recipe. For this particular recipe, I learned that many reviewers added more cocoa powder than the recipe called for to created a firmer cake. Since I was concerned about the cakes spreading too much and thus not creating that perfect circle shape I was after, I opted to add more cocoa powder too. I ended up doubling the recipe and adding about 1/4 cup additional. This was the look I was going for:
Picture from

After mixing up the batter, I used Reynolds parchment paper for baking to cover a cookie sheet, and then I sprayed Pam for baking on the paper to prevent sticking. This was a perfect combo.
Note, do not skimp on this step. I once used generic, and almost lit my oven on fire. 
Next, I used a 1 Tablespoon measuring spoon and dolloped the batter out on the cookie sheets, being careful to create equal sized blobs of batter in a neat little batter ball. Each cookie sheet held 12 cookies in a 3x4 grid. I modified the recipe to reduce the cooking time to about 9 min instead of 11-13 minutes. I did this because the recipe called for bigger pies, and I was making smaller ones. I used a toothpick when they came out of the oven to make sure they were cooked through.

While my cookies were cooling on a cooling rack on the counter, I made the filling. I wanted a peppermint filling, so I followed this recipe from epicurious for the peppermint filling. I made exactly as the recipe called for and left out the food coloring (doubling it as well). Then at the end, I added a bunch of ground up starlight mints.

I bought a 16 oz bag of the starlight mints, and unwrapped about 2/3 of them. I put them into my food processor and ground them up very very small... peppermint dust is how I'd describe it. The addition of the mint dust is what gives the pink color in my icing. No food coloring needed!
This was all that was left after the 16oz bag was used

Once my cakes were cooled completely, I used an offset spatula to spread the filling on one side of the pie, then just made a sandwich with the other half. And that's when my worst nightmare was realized... the filling was squishing out everywhere...

Gushing and oozing... makes me want to cry.

So after a mild panic attack and small pout fest, I got smart, and put each tray in the fridge to stiffen up the filling. Packaging them with out putting them in the fridge would not do. I actually tried this at first, and was disappointed to create a treat bag with pink filling all over the inside of the bag... definitely NOT professional looking. Refrigerating them did the trick, and the pies were ready to package after about 1 hour in the fridge. They looked like this:

Up close
 So that was my whoopie experience. After it was all said and done, I probably would make these again for a party at home... or for an event that did not require me to travel far and where these were served right away. I probably would not make them again to package up, but I think the recipients enjoyed them none the less.

Merry Christmas and sweet treats,

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Blingy Tree

I've gotten a live tree for the last three years. It's a tradition that I love. What's so great about it?... The ceremonious selection of the tree, decorating with my favorite ornaments, and enjoying the smell all season long. And the warm feeling it gives off to the outside of the house as it sits inside the front window... Yeah, that's pretty great too. 

Here's my tree from 2008... the first year I got a real tree, and also the first year I had grown up ornaments (from Pottery Barn of course)
With all the tantalizing reasons for having a Christmas tree this year, I started to remember all the downsides too. Like the challenge of getting the tree to my house. I don't own a vehicle big enough to fit it inside, and getting it to the house would require me to ask one of my girl friend's wonderful husbands... And let's face it, being a single girl, I feel a teesny bit bad about all the times I've called them to 1) unclog my garbage disposal 2) haul something for me and 3) hang blinds etc. So, I decided to save up my karma for when I really need a favor. And let's not forget the constant watering required so the tree doesn't lose all it's needles all over the carpet or become a fire hazard in my house. And speaking of those needles... Oh those needles! The cleanup is constant! And finally, I've been out of town so much, that I just couldn't validate getting the approximately $65 tree this year. So with that, I decided to skip the tradition of a real tree this year... But no need to worry folks, I've come up with a glamorous solution, and it was... FREE!

Hoot Hoot, Merry Christmas!

This year I was inspired by the trends I'd been seeing in stores like Restoration Hardware. The basic idea is a bunch of branches stuck in a big vase with ornaments hanging off them. I realized I already had the branches. They were in this vase in my powder room.
Side note....Is this ugly? I really love the vase, but I'm not sure about the leaves anymore... They're sort of 1970s as they are velvet... Please someone tell me what you think of this. 
Anyway, the sparkle branches used to be in this vase, and consequently would get glitter and sparkles all over my bathroom floor if they were to be moved. So that is why I conducted the careful operation of removing said branches from the spotted vase into the owl vase upon the toilet in the powder room.

This is how the branches look if you just stick them into the vase...
Big empty spaces... just rollin' around in there...
Also, the toilet is the perfect working height for this project... ;) I got an A in ergonomics people.

So how do we make it look professional like? BTW this is the goal of my life...
We use this:
Bubble wrap and packing paper.
The goal here is to get the branches to stand up by themselves, not touching each other, in an artful arrangement. I put a couple pieces of bubble wrap in first both to pad the bottom of the vase and give some height to the arrangement and also to create some space in between the side of the vase and the branch. Then I just jammed in packing paper all around to create this:
Ta Daaaaa!!
Now for the decorating part.
I added some moss around on the top to create a finished look. And I hung some of my favorite ornaments on the branches.
I've got a woodland creature thing going on this year
A glass birdie ornament from Pier One after Christmas last year
A gift from my fabulous sister - a fabric owl from Crate & Barrel 
A gift from my friend Lindsey last year - a glitter owl from Pier One
A rustic looking bell, a favor from my friend Pam's wedding... I'm not sure if they were meant to be ornaments, but I thought they were perfect for this. And for some reason I had 2. Sorry to whoever is missing theirs... :)
Look how fab it looks with the presents stacked up next to the table!
And I love how it compliments the mantle next to it! It's a sparkly Christmas!
Speaking of the mantle, I couldn't wait to reveal my stars this Christmas...
The Pottery Barn Reindeer! I've been coveting them since 2007, but I'd been resisting buying them for years... always waiting until after Christmas when I think they'll be on sale. So far, it's never worked out as the price + shipping combo was never just right. But this year, I noticed they were on sale for cyber Monday, and with free shipping, I couldn't resist. So here they are in all their glory... And I must admit, they are everything I had dreamed of, and more...
Yup, pretty spectacular
Continuing with a break down of the mantle, the candle sticks are the regular mercury glass staples from Kohls that I use all year long. And the silver urn is another decor staple from Marshalls Home Goods. The candles were 75% off after Christmas 2009 at World Market.

The tree on the left is from Marshalls Home Goods, and I use it on my mantle every year
The mantle is finished off with 2 strings of crystals that I got on sale at Crate & Barrel after Christmas last year and a Bath & Body Works candle in a silver sleeve.
Side note: I am loving white candles this year. I just think they look so fresh and clean burning through the pretty silver  holders that you can get at Bath & Body Works. I stocked up after Thanksgiving cashing in on their 3 for $30 sale and using a $10 coupon, bringing my total down to $20 for 3 candles and pretty much making my year...
And now a look at it all together.

I'm very happy with my Christmas tree work around this year. Does anyone else have any long standing traditions they aren't doing this year? ...Any Christmas tree substitutions out there?

Have a very Sparkly Christmas!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Validating my need for a craft room - Christmas Present Wrapping!!

I have an entire room dedicated to crafting, which I use a few times a year. You see, I have the intention to use it more, but somehow it just doesn't happen. Sort of like when I mark off all the pages in Martha Stewart Living with good craft and recipe ideas and then end up completing about 2% of them... The intention is there, but sigh... the time is not. So I get super excited when Christmas comes around, and I get to use my craft room for its intended purpose. Years of after Christmas shopping has helped me accumulate gift paper, bows, ribbons, tags, and cards. And I have managed to keep my decorations closet in nice order, storing the gift wrapping supplies neatly in plastic bins for easy access each year.

On the table is a box of ribbons and bows, wrapping paper rolls, packing paper, cards, and gift tags. At my feet is a waste basket and a bin full of gift bags and boxes.

Don't try to spy now... I made sure none of the identifying boxes were sticking out.

I save up boxes through out the year both for shipping gifts as needed and for Christmas time gift packing. Underneath the gift boxes is a stack of packing paper that I also save from shipped items through the year.

Then I put my collection of ribbons and bows as well as gift tags and cards in the corner of the craft table. Of course the tools of the trade (scissors, tape, a pen, and glue for gluing down some pesky bows) are at hand.

The bows and ribbon are kept in a box by themselves to stay easily organized. At the end of the season, they go right back into the plastic bin and are easily accessed next year.

The end result is an ecelcitc mix of wrapped gifts, each one wrapped individually with care.

Don't you wish you knew what was inside these lovely gifts?

So does anyone out there have any gift wrapping tips? I always have to use a lot of tape on the ends... That tri-fold thing is a work in progress :)

Merry Christmas and Happy Wrapping, Engineeringirl

Sunday, October 30, 2011

$HAMELESS $AVINGS - And another reason why the manager's special shelf rocks it hard

I scored again. This time it was on Halloween candy.... except for I bought it like 2 months ago. As I've explained before, I'm shoppertunistic. This means that I shop for deals and buy based on sales and available coupons, not necessarily purchasing things that I need at that moment. And because I'm pretty good at planning ahead, I'll find deals on things sometimes months in advance. This not only saves money in the log run, but also saves time because I'm avoiding the frantic search for the perfect dress that I need next weekend or gift that I need for a birthday that week, etc. In addition, by stocking up and buying things based on sales and being prepared, it prevents me from having to make special trips to pick up things, saving time and gas money.
Also I need to save money because I want this.
Over the summer, as I was doing my usual perusing of the manager's special shelf at my local Kroger, I came across some packages of mini snickers. They were mixed bags of both regular snickers and those of the almond variety. They were $1.39 a bag! Perfect for Halloween, don't you think?! So I purchased 4 bags, starting my Halloween candy total out at $5.56.
For those of you who can't see, it says the original price was $2.87, meaning I got them for more than 50% off!
4 bags makes for a nice full basket, and the gold mixed with the silvery Snickers bars is very Halloween-y
Around the same time of year, I was digging through the shelves at my HEB and found organic Amy's fruit snacks for $2 each box. Just a side tip: I'm always on the lookout for good deals on food that I can donate to my local school's food pantry. My friend is a social worker there, and I feel good about donating to an organization that I feel connected to. So look out for retired items or dented boxes/cans etc of foods that are food pantry worthy. I tend to buy a lot of cereals, granola bars and hearty soups like chili that will really make a difference in the tummy of a hungry kid. And I try to stay away from the veggies because it seems like veggie cans are commonly donated items.
So back to the organic fruit snacks. I bought 2 boxes to put toward my Halloween candy supply, bringing my total to $9.56.

Side Note - I think I'm going to do a little social experiment this year to figure out who's got the hippie kids who pass up the chocolate and pick out the organic fruit snacks.... looking forward to it.

Feeling pretty good about my stash, I decided to spring for a few more bags of candy this year. See last year, I ran out of candy toward the very end of the night and didn't get to share with any of the older kids who came out after sunset. So off to Walmart I went with a $1.50 off 3 bags coupon clipped from my Sunday paper. I scored 3 bags for $2.50 each, and minus the $1.50 coupon, my final total for this year is $15.56.

By doing some Internet research, I found the average amount of money spent on Halloween candy last year was just a little over $20. Totalling my candy expenditures, I've come in 25% under the national average. And overall I'm pretty proud of my display for this year!

Does anyone else out there have any tips or tricks for saving on Halloween candy?

Chocolate, Chewies, and Safe Trick-or Treating everyone!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Doors of Chatham County

A few weeks ago, I got an opportunity to go to Savannah. Malibu Ken was there working, so I decided to meet up with him for a couple days over one of the weekends. Savannah is the most adorable town. It's so quaint and old feeling. There are many historic homes which are labeled by special bronze plaques on the outside of the house, like this one:
Savannah has a very unique town layout with town squares and sidewalks of slate and brick and all kinds of different stones.  
This one with hexagon stones was my favorite.

Sidewalk with a herringbone brick pattern. How chic. And I love the stately double entrance.
In between the homes were the cutest courtyards. The houses were very close together and built up and back. They didn't look huge from the front, but they were several stories high and rather deep. We liked to peak in on the sweet little courtyards.

I wonder who's courtyard is this? I like to imagine the parties that can be thrown here.

The details are my favorite. Look at these cute hinges attached to the brick...
But the most unique pieces of architecture were the doors on the homes and churches.
Love the iron detail on the door and the ivy growing all around
I loved this entrance to a courtyard... Can you see the hidden balcony?

I just had to strike a pose...

This archway with the half moon window was so pretty. Love the bright white trim and the little molding pieces inside the window along with the color combo (navy and creamy yellow)
 Savannah is also known for their historic churches, which were just beautiful. This one was my favorite, and what a great shot!
Who knew my boyfriend was such a talented photog? Just a perfect shot with the horse and carriage in front!

Aren't the windows cool? Look at that swirly glass in the clover shaped windows.
This church had a pretty door too... Do you see the flower shapes carved into them?
This place was just beautiful! I highly recommend Savannah. And lastly, I must cover my favorite subject, food. Here is a picture of us in front of the Old Pink House, the absolute BEST food we had while we were there. Plus no blog is complete without a picture of Malibu Ken and me :)

Cheers and Apple Pie dreams, Engineeringirl