How to Make Your Home the Best Lil’ B+B in Town

 

Holiday season is upon us, and I love, love, triple love having guests ( I inherited the hospitality gene from my Southern grandparents).  Nothing fills my heart more than having people in the house to bake for and dote on from the minute they put their bags down until the minute they leave. I want every single person who walks through the front door to immediately feel at home, and I’ve got a few tips on h0w to make that happen:

 

The Amenities Basket: I think this is one of my favorite things in the entire house, and something I’m really proud of. In the past, though it doesn’t happen quite that often, I’ve been at a friend’s house and totally unprepared. I didn’t have my toothbrush, I didn’t have my toothpaste, I didn’t even have a tube of chapstick! It’s a terrible feeling because you find yourself picturing exactly where each item you’ve left is, and wishing that you’d just packed it, just in case. That’s why I came up with the idea for the Amenities Basket. I’ve got every miniature-sized item a guest could ever need: makeup wipes, toothpaste, fancy soaps and body washes, shampoos and conditioners, and even feminine products. Truthfully, my basket is tailored more for the female guests that arrive, but take the opportunity to tailor it to the needs of your specific guests. Maybe they like a certain aftershave, maybe they like a certain lotion. Nothing will make your guests feel welcome like a basket filled with their favorite things. And here’s a good tip: try to double up on products if you can. If you’ve got multiple guests, you want to make sure that you have enough emergency items for everyone.

Baked Goods: Greet your guests at the door with a sweet treat! You can never go wrong with a warm batch of classic chocolate chip cookies like these ones from my favorite cookie lady, Dorie Greenspan!

 

Candles: Freshen up the guest room (or even the whole house) with a couple scented candles. Make sure to keep the scent warm, light, and crisp to create an atmosphere that is cozy and inviting, not overpowering; You never know what your guests prefer scent-wise until they’ve gotten there, so best to err on the side of less is more. (Side note: You can find a great selection of super inexpensive, delicious-smelling candles at Homegoods and Target!)

 

Fresh Flowers: Nothing brightens up the home like a bouquet of fresh flowers! Choose bright, seasonal colors to make the whole house pop. And to keep things extra fancy, trim a few and put them in a mason jar or small vase on the nightstand in your guest room.

 

Bedside Reading Material: You never know the sleep schedule of your guests. While you may be a night owl, they may be early to bed, early to rise. If that’s the case, or they’re just having trouble falling asleep in a bed that is not their own, it’s always nice to provide a little reading material to pass the time. I like to tailor my picks to things I think my specific guest will love. Usually I’ll choose one book that will make them think, one book to turn their brain off when they just want to relax, and one or two magazines for when they want to stare at beautiful pictures. It’s good to have a variety.

 

Clear Space in the Closet: Depending on how long your guests plan to stay, it’s always a good idea to clear a little space in the closet for them with a few extra hangers. We wouldn’t want a beautiful dress or suit to get wrinkled!

 

Soft Blankets + Socks: I like a cold house, what can I say? And while this cold-centric gal doesn’t mind putting on extra layers in the house, my guests may not always. That’s why I’m always prepared with extra soft and cozy blankets and socks for when my guests feel a bit chilly. It’s always good to have several available in case your guests don’t want to share.

 

Fresh Linens + Towels: Wash your sheets, and wash extra towels. You never know when your guests may want to take a shower, or even a quick cat nap after a long journey. Be prepared.

A Beverage Basket: We happen to have a lot of baskets lying around the house from various holiday gifts, so I found a good use for one as a beverage basket.  If you’ve got an extra basket, or don’t mind shelling out a few bucks for a small one, fill it with specialty teas, individual coffee packs, water bottles, and even a cocoa mix or two. It’s good to be prepared for any tastes your guest may have.

Ask Ahead of Time: The most important tip of all is to always, always ask ahead of time. Ask about food allergies (VERY IMPORTANT), ask what snacks they like, ask what kind of movies they watch, ask how they like their coffee in the morning. Nothing shows that you care more than making sure your guests have the best stay possible. The goal is to make them feel as though they never want to leave, but of course they’ll have to eventually! Always ask.

 

What are your best guest tips? Sound off in the comments below!

 

 

 

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Vanilla Chai Chocolate Truffles

On this episode of “Sydney Makes Easy Things That Impress Her Friends,” we’re talkin’ ’bout chocolate truffles. But not just any regular chocolate truffles, oh no, we’re throwing vanilla chai into the mix. Essentially, they’re chocolate balls, but doesn’t the word “truffle” just make it sound much fancier? Ya, I agree.

The bond that a woman of color has with her hairdresser is one that is sacred, and must be fostered and nurtured. I do this by surprising mine with edible treats at least once a month. And since the hot cross buns that I made a few weeks back were given to family and church members, I decided that my beloved beautician should get something specifically made JUST for her. And like many, many women that I know, she looooooooooves  chocolate. So, I thought, what better treat than just straight-up homemade truffles?

During the holiday season my television basically stays on Food Network and Cooking Channel, and I watched a special episode of Giada at Home in which she made chocolate truffles for some “guests” (more likely the production crew, but ya know, TV magic and all that) who were stopping by for a holiday party. She stepped it up by brewing a bunch of bags chai  in heavy cream, then taking it off the heat and pouring it over chocolate to melt it. Then she stirred it all together until it turned into chocolate ganache, refrigerated it for a few hours until it set, then scooped out the mixture by the tablespoon, rolled it into a ball, coated it in cocoa powder, and then wrapped a little gold leaf around each for a classy touch. They were so cute and elegant, so I logged the recipe away for an occasion when I would really, really want to make them. But when it came time to make these truffles, wouldn’t you know it, I didn’t have any gold leaf on hand (I’m not workin’ with a Food Network budget here), and instead of brewing with classic chai, I decided to switch it up with my favorite bundling of vanilla chai tea bags. Was it a success? Oh yeah. She loved them!

These truffles are perfect for anyone who has a semi-sweet tooth. They’ve got a bit of an edge to them, with just the hint of sweetness to balance everything out. Basically, you get this intensely rich, deep chocolatey flavor, mixed with the warmth of spices that you find in classic chai, and finished off with the subtle hint of vanilla. The vanilla may just be a gentle whisper, but it definitely won’t let you ever forget that it’s there.

Best of all, they can be made wayyyy in advance, which works perfectly for me because I can enjoy leftover truffles that didn’t fit in the gifted container for weeks to come.

Vanilla Chai Chocolate Truffles: Good for friendship, good for random chocolate cravings.

 

VANILLA CHAI CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 7 bags vanilla chai tea (I like Bigelow)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 9 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder

 

DIRECTIONS

Before you begin, tie all of your tea bag strings together in a knot. This makes it much easier to fish them out when you’ve finished with them.

Pour the heavy cream into a small saucepan, then add your tea bags. Place the pan over medium-low heat, warming the cream slowly; stir occasionally. You’ll know when your mixture is heated through when you see little bubbles start to form around the edges of the cream, about 5-7 minutes. Simmer for 3 minutes more, then remove from heat.

Remove the tea bags from the sauce pan. Place the finely chopped chocolate and salt in a medium bowl, then strain the cream mixture over it using a fine-mesh strainer. Let sit for 3 minutes so that the chocolate begins to melt on its own. Slowly whisk the melted chocolate into the cream starting in the center of the bowl, then slowly making your way outwards. Remember to do this slowly and carefully so that the chocolate doesn’t seize up! Continue whisking until the mixture is smooth and completely blended. Place a piece of plastic wrap DIRECTLY on top of the ganache, and press down gently to make sure the surface is completely covered.  Let set in the  refrigerator for AT LEAST 3 hours, but the best is overnight. The mixture should be firm by that time, but still easy to work it.

Measure your coca powder, then place in a small, shallow bowl. With a tablespoon cookie scoop (or just a tablespoon measuring spoon), scoop even rounds of ganache into your palm, then very quickly but gently roll into a ball.  Next. roll the ball in the coca powder to coat; gently shake off any excess.. Repeat this process until you’ve run out of ganache. Place your truffles in an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Make Ahead: The truffles can be made several weeks ahead of time, kept refrigerated in an airtight container. On the day of serving, roll each in the cocoa powder.

 

 

SOURCE: Very, very slightly adapted from Giada De Laurentis 

 

 

Hot Cross Buns

Hiiiiiiiiiiiii, how was your Easter??  Mine was epic and uplifting, and full of food. Simply the best.

Have you ever had hot cross buns? This was my first year. Before that, my only knowledge of them began and ended with the song of the same name that I was forced to learn on the recorder in 7th grade. That was it. (Fun fact: I haven’t picked up the recorder since.) But when you’re young, it’s almost a necessity that you start your own traditions and/or jump on holiday-specific bandwagons, so here we are. And I have to tell you: I can’t believe I’ve lived my life up until now without hot cross buns. I mean, it’s crazy. I can honestly say, in the four years that I have been baking, hot cross buns are the best things to ever come out of my oven. BY. FAR. Easter Sunday’s breakfast was just EXCELLENT, you guys.

Best served warm, these buns are yeasty, squishy, icing-topped perfection. Traditionally, hot cross buns are filled with dried fruit like raisins, currants, cherries, or dates, but my grocery store was serisouly lacking in the traditional dried mixed fruit bags. What I found instead was a mix of dried strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and cranberries, and I LOVED that combination when paired with the warmed apricot jam and blend of cardamom and cinnamon spices. And while I enjoyed the little bursts of strawberries I got, next time ’round, I’ll try to make my own fruit mix because the cardamom-cinnamon was practically begging for raisins. Either way, fruit in yeast rolls just WORKS.

You may see these most often on Easter, but something tells me these would work extremely well around Christmas time…or just all-year-round in general.

 

It’s never too late for Hot Cross Buns.

 

Find the recipe HERE from Bon Appetit! 

 

 

 

Heart-Shaped Jammy Sammy Cookies

I know February 14th is long-gone, but I subscribe to Valentine’s Day-cutesienss 365 days out of the year.

By the way, how was your Valentine’s Day? Mine was surprisingly fun this year, which has freed me from the cycle of weird/awkward/disastrous scenes of Valentine’s Day past. I volunteered at the an annual Sweetheart Dinner (last year I made this French Silk Pie), and had a BLAST. There were several courses involved, and no time to take a breath as we were each cooking over our respective dishes (I was on dessert duty but got roped into making seafood Alfredo once we got there). Lots of “behind”-s, and “this is ready to go out!”-s, and “We need more ginger ale for the punch!”-s were thrown out, and it reminded me of how much I love being in a busy kitchen. I live for that hustle and bustle sometimes. I mean, I’ve never dried so many dishes, or continuously scrubbed the same countertops so many times in my entire life, but MAN was it worth it. It was a really classy affair.

Would you like to know the best bit? These cookies were a BIG HIT!

“Jammy Sammie Cookies” is just the name that I wrote to be cute/slightly annoying. You’re probably more familiar with the name “Linzer,” because of the filling and shape cut out of the center. I generally see Linzer cookies the most during the Holiday Season, but if you ask me, the cookie cutout + filling pairing should be a yearlong affair. And what goes better with a heart shape on Valentine’s Day than fresh strawberry jam? Red is like the official unofficial color of V-Day, so the filling of these cookies were required to match accordingly.

Quick question: how do you feel about homemade jam? Me? I’m all about it. I feel like there’s nothing that makes me feel cozier than when I’m making jam from scratch. Sure, it takes way less time to just pick a jar off the shelf at your local grocery store, but when you make it yourself you: A) Know exactly what has gone into it, and B) MADE. IT. YOURSELF. Helloooooooo! It’s (relatively) fast, (totally) easy, (unbelievably) fresh, and you know it’s always made with love.

Now pair that sweet, sweet jam with some deliciously soft shortbread plus a liberal sprinkling of powdered sugar for good measure, and you’ve got the stuff of dreams, kids. What could be better?

Since you’ll definitely have jam left over after filling the cookies, might I make a few suggestions as to what to use it on?

  1. Biscuits
  2. Scones
  3. Toast
  4. Fingers dipped in
  5. By the spoonful
  6. etc. etc.

And let’s just quickly talk about the versatility of these cookies, shall we? Yes, they were made for February 14th, but they can go wayyy beyond that. We’re talkin’ tea parties, birthday parties, bridal showers, picnics, breakfasts, coffee breaks, dates, etc. etc. Cookie hearts filled with homemade jam never go out of season.

It’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

HEART-SHAPED JAMMY SAMMY COOKIES

What You’ll Need:

For the shortbread:

2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Powdered sugar for sprinkling

For the jam:

32 oz (two 16 oz containers) strawberries

1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon  brown sugar

Pinch of salt

Zest of 1 whole lemon + juice of half a lemon

 

DIRECTIONS:

First, let’s make the shortbread cookie dough:

 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a wooden spoon), add the butter, sugar, and salt and beat until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Add the egg and egg yolk one at a time, making sure each addition is well combined. Next, add the vanilla extract. Add the flour in three batches, making sure each addition is well combined (but don’t over-mix), before adding more flour. When necessary, scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula.

Once your dough has just come together, lay your dough out on a plastic sheet, then divide it in half. Wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap, then shape to form discs. Refrigerate the discs for at least one hour, but best is overnight.

Ok, dough’s done, now let’s make the jam:

Rinse strawberries before using, and let drain completely before getting started.

Once your strawberries have been washed, hull each strawberry, then cut into quarters. Place all of your cut up strawberries in a medium sauce pan. Next, add your brown sugar, pinch of salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Using a potato masher (or the back of a wooden spoon), muddle all of your ingredients together, making sure that the berries’ juices are starting to release, and your sugar and salt have started to dissolve.

Cook your fruit compote, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until your jam has thickened, and it passes the line test (a line can be drawn down the center of the spoon without the juices running); On my stove, that takes about 30-35 minutes. Along the way, make sure to give your jam a few taste tests, and adjust the flavors to your liking. The mixture will bubble quite a bit and juice may jump out of the pan occasionally, so watch out for that!

When your jam has come together, take it off the heat and let it cool completely before transferring it to a mason jar or tupperware container.

This jam will last for several weeks refrigerated.

VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT leave the stove whilst you’re making your jam. One minute it can still be too runny, then the next you’re cleaning burnt strawberry syrup out of the pan until your arms fall off. Trust me. Stay put. Keep stirring.

Ok, my dough has rested. Time to make some cookies!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

Remove the first disc of dough and let sit on a counter for ten minutes; this allows it to come to room temperature, thus making it much easier to roll out.

Liberally flour a rolling pin and work surface.

Roll the cookie dough out to a 1/8 inch thickness, then, using a floured heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out shapes. Transfer the hearts to the cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, about 1-inch apart. Stamp a hole out of the center of half the cookies using the tip of a circle piping tip. Repeat the process with any remaining scraps, and with the second disc of dough.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 7-10 minutes (depending on your oven),  or until the cookies have started to lightly brown around the edges. Allow the cookies to cool for five minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.

Transfer the cookies with the holes cut out of the center to one of the cool baking sheets (keep the parchment paper on). Sprinkle a generous amount of powdered sugar over them using a sifter, mesh strainer, or powdered sugar shaker. (Aren’t you glad you have the parchment paper now to catch the excess sugar?) Flip the bottom cookies (no holes in them) over so that the underside is facing you, then apply about a teaspoon of jam right in the center of each. Place the tops on, then lightly press down so that you create a sandwich. The jam should spread evenly to the edges and through the center hole without overflowing. Enjoy!

To Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.

 

 

SOURCE: Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen

How to Make Chicken Stock Without a Recipe (But There’s a Recipe!)

Remember that time, just a month ago, when everyone was in awe of the warm weather outside and we thought, “Aw, man. I kind of miss the snow, and that delicious nip of cold in the air…” HOW WRONG WE WERE! I haven’t seen the ground in two weeks, and I have an industrial-sized bottle of lotion by my side practically 24/7. But I suppose it could be worse. It could be 2 degrees F outside. OH WAIT. ALSO HAPPENING. Someone wake me when Spring gets here.

I will say this: when I have nowhere to go, there is nothing prettier or more serene than the wintery wonderland I see out my window. It’s so peaceful, and so beautiful. It makes the cold almost worth. Almost.

But Midwestern winters aren’t all bad; freezing temperatures give me the chance to catch up on all the domestic projects that I keep writing down on my never-ending list. One big one? Making homemade chicken stock!

It’s 2016, people. Let’s start making our own.

I go through a lot of chicken stock at my house. I use it for burrito bowls and soups, mostly, and I definitely get tired of running to the store all the time to pick up multiple containers. It’s so incredibly easy to make at home, PLUS, you’re not wasting a thing! All you need is a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store (you can use the meat in sandwiches, salads, on nachos, in soups, etc. etc.) and some of your favorite vegetables and herb seasonings. It’s so simple, so economical, and VERY TASTY.

The fun part about making your own chicken stock is that you get to modify it to your particular tastes. If you like things a little spicier, kick it up a notch with a teensy bit of cayenne (a lot goes a long way). If you hate celery, leave it out! And homemade stock is an especially fun thing to make when you have a ton of leftover veggies and nothing to put them in. Waste not, want not.

Your main ingredients are: a chicken carcass cut into pieces, water, salt, and pepper. After that, it’s up to you! Once you’ve put the ingredients you like into the pot, fill it with water so that everything is covered by about 1-2 inches, bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for three hours. If at any point you start to see the water level get a little low, simply add more! And that’s it. Once your stock is done, skim off any film that’s reached the top with a slotted spoon, strain the stock into a large bowl, and discard all the solids. (Here’s a tip: When I’m using fresh herbs, I like to tie them all together with a little kitchen twine. That way, once it’s time to strain, I can easily fish them out. ) Make sure your stock is completely cool, then separate it evenly into Mason or Weck jars. If you have plans to use it within a week, pop some stock in the fridge. If you’ve got future plans, pop your jars in the freezer. It lasts indefinitely. Just make sure to defrost it in the refrigerator overnight before you use it!

And there you have it. You can totally make homemade stock without a recipe! But if you’re looking for a little guidance, scroll down for what I put in mine.

Everything’s better homemade.

 

HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 chicken carcass, broken into pieces
  • 2 whole onions, quartered
  • 8+ baby carrots, chopped
  • 5 celery sticks, chopped
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4+ sprigs of fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen twine
  • Pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS

In the bottom of a pot that is at least 4 quarts, place the broken-up chicken carcass, onions, baby carrots, celery sticks, garlic cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, thyme, and salt. Make sure that everything is evenly distributed.

Fill the pot with water until all of the contents are covered by at least 1-2 inches of water.Place the pot over medium-high heat, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, then let simmer for 3 hours. The stock will occasionally bubble, and the contents may shift a little bit. If the water starts to reduce, add more. You want to make sure that everything is fully submersed in water at all times.

Using a slotted spoon, collect and discard any foam or film on the top of  the stock, then strain the stock into a large bowl. Throw away all of the solid pieces that have landed in the strainer. Let the stock cool completely before transferring it evenly into Mason or Weck jars. If you’re planning to use the stock within a week, store it in the refrigerator. If not, it will freeze indefinitely. Once you’re ready to use it, simply let the frozen stock defrost in the refrigerator overnight.

Hey, you just made chicken stock. ‘Grats.

 

SOURCE: Adapted from The Kitchn Cookbook

Vanilla Bean Cake Doughnuts

You know what’s hard to make? Doughnuts. Seriously, I have so much more respect for the contestants on Donut Showdown now that I’ve tried it at home. And they’re under time constraints! Dough is sticky, flour goes everywhere, oil is HOT, and finding the perfect glaze consistency takes practice. It all takes practice. Is it worth it in the end? You bet. My life was filled with homemade fried dough for several days, and that’s all a girl could want.

I’ve been thinking. I really want my life to look like that scene in Marie Antoinette where all the women do is sit around playing cards, drinking champagne out of coupe glasses, gorging themselves on the most beautiful, fresh-fresh-fresh pastries and candies you’ve ever seen. And they’re doing all this while wearing three pounds’ worth of silk, tulle, and ruffles. Oh, and mile-high hair. I’ve always been a fan of big hair. Ask my beautician. And when I would say “Let them eat cake,” no one would be upset with me because I would then immediately follow it up with actual cake. I’d be the most beloved queen in all the land.

Truth be told, it’ll be quite some time before I’m Versailles-level good at making doughnuts and other beautifully complicated pastries. I will say though, that for only my second time frying dough in the kitchen, things didn’t turn out badly at all. There could’ve been a little less rolling and re-rolling involved in the dough-cutting stage.. Oh, and I’m still working on my fear of hot oil, but baby steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day (and while we’re on the topic of Rome, neither is good pizza).

One of my favorite things to get at my local bakery is a classic cake doughnut. More than anything else, I adore a good cake doughnut. Especially when it’s Fall and tastes like pumpkins and apple cider and cinnamon sugar. In the summer, I prefer my doughnuts covered in rainbow nonpareils and vanilla glaze. Throw in the comforting speckling of fresh vanilla bean seeds, and you’ve got me. To be able to make my favorite treat in the comfort of my own home, curlers in hair, 40s Big Band blaring in the background, is such a splendid concept.

Now, I like you, so I won’t lie to you and say that it’s particularly easy, or that it isn’t time-consuming. But I mean, It’s REALLY worth it. Your reward is DOUGHNUTS at the end! That’s my incentive for everything, but in this scenario, doughnuts is the actual GUARENTEE. Yes, I do have a few new tiny burn marks from absent-mindedly plopping doughnut holes into 350 degree oil, but I just ran one hand under some very cold water, and popped two slightly-cooled doughnut holes in my mouth with the other. I felt exponentially better after that.

Bottom line: make your own doughnuts. Tell me how it goes.

Why don’t you try this Vanilla Bean Cake Doughnut recipe from one of my favorite blogs, Apt.2B Baking Co!

 

Bronte+Sydney’s Chicago Adventures

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 This is my friend, Bronte. I’ve known her for…nine years. Wait, NINE YEARS!? That can’t be right. (holy moly, it IS right!) The first time I ever met her was when she came for a school visit the year earlier, and I did everything in my power to get her attention. After all, she was English, had an affinity for Tim Burton movies, had a super cool haircut, and, most importantly, she was NEW. I LOVE new kids. Back when I couldn’t bake anything to save my life, I used to use a little self-deprecating humor to get attention. Nowadays, I shove a baked good in their face, and we go from there.

Bronte and I became fast friends. We’re often on the same wave length, and like almost all the same things. It’s hard to find true connections with people in this world, so when you’ve found one, you must hold on to it. Though Bronte has since moved back to England, we’ve never lost contact, and she’s shown up in the Midwest several times since then.

When the stars align and I find myself in Chicago, I usually have a plan. It’s usually a 2+ page list of activities to ensure that I don’t squander even a minute of the opportunity to take a day trip to one of the greatest cities in America. I can also pick up a few harder-to-find baking ingredients whilst I’m in a bigger city, and I generally don’t waste those opportunities either.

But this visit was a little different. There was no plan, really, other than when I was to arrive, and when I was to board the commuter train home. This time we had hours and hours to simply wander around the city, pop into shops and bakeries whenever we pleased, and just enjoy each other’s company.

Bronte Chicago

We walked around, gabbed about old classmates, grabbed cupcakes and cake samples from Magnolia Bakery, went in search of sunglasses (Bronte), and lamented over the sudden disappearance of curls thanks to some powerful Chicago fog (Sydney).

Walking and continuous laughter can make a couple of gal pals awfully peckish. Since it was the middle of the dreaded lunch hour, and seeing as we were right in the heart of many, many businesses full of hungry office-dwellers, we decided that there was no chance we’d get seats in a restaurant. The best thing to do was grab some bangin’ burgers from Good Stuff Eateryand have an impromptu picnic on the steps of the Art Institute. Bronte did a fabulous job of documenting that in the picture above.^^^

IMG_1086

So, OKAY, I fibbed a little. I did have a little bit of a plan: absolutely no matter what else happened, it was essential that Bronte and I find ourselves in the pie garden of Bang Bang Pie Shop. No matter what happens, if my feet are touching the streets of Chicago, those feet must jump on the blue line to Logan Square to get a piece of pie, or else.

And, I will say, I was NOT disappointed. When we arrived, I vowed to get something new; I tend to just venture back to things I like because I know I’ll like them. And as I stared at the giant chalkboard filled with new possibilities, I’d made a decision to pick the first thing that sounded good to me. That is, until I noticed that the French Silk Pie was on the menu for the day. As much as I loved it, I just couldn’t order it again. I HAD to get out of my comfort zone. But then, I noticed something different: that classic French Silk Pie had been given a Mexican twist. That was new enough for me!

Get this: Chocolate mousse and Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur, topped with whipped cream and a little lime zest. PHENOMENAL. Now I’m going to have to figure out how to replicate it at home!

We rode the train home in comfortable silence, quite content with our relaxed day of adventures (and quite sleepy as well).

Thanks for a good day, Chicago. I’m going to live in you one day.

Rustic Blueberry-Lemon Ricotta Scones

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It went past 50 degrees last week and I could hardly believe it. For the first time in months I didn’t have to prepare myself for the familiar sting of winter wind hitting every piece of exposed skin. And I even spotted neighbors that I haven’t seen in months. The windbreaker is out, the winter coat is buried deep within the wardrobe, and despite what the weather people keep trying to tell me (back to the 40s, sometimes 30s) Spring is here to stay. Why? Because I said so.

The sun is shining so brightly and it’s making me think of Summer. And, it should be noted, I don’t even like Summer that much. It’s just too hot. While most people around these parts relish the feeling of a hot sun on their skin, all I can do is slap on the sunscreen; even while just looking out the window. I’ll take 70 degrees and breezy, please. None of that 90 degree business. Anyway, since the sun is shining and it’s actually remotely warm, it had me missing the fresh fruit that I practically live on all summer: blueberries. And what goes exceptionally well with blueberries? Lemons, m’dear!

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I’ve been trying to think of ways to spice up breakfast lately. The Cheerios just aren’t cutting it anymore; not by themselves anyway. Toast is a splendid breakfast companion, but I’ve just been looking for a little more oomph. That’s where these scones come in. Such a simple little thing on its own, the scone. So much potential, just begging to be taken to the next level. And so we shall, little scone. So we shall.

Plus, we had some extra ricotta burning a hole in the fridge. Ricotta cheese shall never, ever be wasted. Not on my watch.
SCONES 2

And I know that scones are traditionally wedge-shaped, but we’re not going for tradition here. The beauty of a scone (besides the lovely taste) is that it can be wedge-shaped, biscuit shaped, or maybe somewhere in between like I’ve attempted. Mine sort of resemble drop biscuits with fruit, and you know what? That’s what I’m going for. They’re rustic. And also incredibly delicious.

These scones are crispy like a good southern biscuit, but still super moist thanks to both the ricotta and blueberries. And just as you start to get into the sweetness of the blueberry, you’re greeted by the hint of lemony goodness. Breakfast is going to be really good this weekend.

Scones 3And don’t let anyone speak badly about whichever shape you choose. You do you.

What You’ll Need:

1 large egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

zest of one lemon

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (thawed if frozen)

Heavy cream for brushing

Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside

In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla. Once fully combined, add the ricotta. (It’s okay if there are still little lumps once you’re finished combining.)

Combine the lemon zest and granulated sugar in a small bowl, rubbing the two together with your fingers until it gives off a lovely fragrant smell. Set aside.

In a large bowl,  use a whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon-sugar mix. Add the cut up pieces of butter and gently toss with a fork, making sure each piece of butter is coated with the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or fork, incorporate the butter into the flour until you get a mixture of little lumps of butter and flour.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix together using a rubber spatula until just combined. Careful not to over-mix. Next, gently fold in the blueberries. Turn out the dough onto a very well-floured surface and gently knead the dough. Add a little flour as you knead if the dough is too sticky. Pat the dough into a 1/2 inch thick disk. Cut into a wedges, or a circles using a biscuit cutter, or for a more rustic look, gently cut a section and carefully shape it yourself. Transfer the pieces onto your prepared baking sheet.

Brush each piece with heavy cream (to help it brown nicely in the oven), and sprinkle scones with Turbinado sugar.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!

Two things to note:

1. This dough is VERY sticky because of the ricotta cheese. If you need to, add a little flour when kneading, but make sure to be gentle and not over-knead the dough.

2. Depending on your oven, it may take more than 20 minutes for your scones to turn golden. Be patient. They’ll get there. But do keep a close eye on them: scones can go from lovely brown to too dark in no time flat.

SOURCE: Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cake

Image 1 skillet cake

I’ve said this so many times before, but it bears repeating now: one should never underestimate the power of a chocolate chip cookie. There’s a reason why it’s such a classic, go-to dessert. It’s soft in the middle, ooey gooey, and oh-so-cholatey. In times of stress, I find myself going back to my favorite chocolate chip recipes, seeking out that comfort that only a good cookie can bring. And when that cookie happens to be 9-inches, baked in a skillet, and slightly under-baked in the center, it’s even better. Let’s call it an easy reward for surviving Monday, shall we?

photo 2

Never have the words “You deserve a cookie,” been more applicable.

 

What You’ll Need:

2 cups AP flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

 

Directions:

-Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour well one 9-inch ovenproof skillet.

-In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt.

-In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl using a wooden spoon, or with a hand mixer) beat the butter and sugars (granulated and light brown) on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed to low and add the egg. Add the egg yolk, then the vanilla, and mix well.

-Carefully add the flour mixture a little bit at a time while the mixer is on low speed,  and beat until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to fold in the chocolate chips. Transfer the batter to the prepared skillet, making sure that it is smooth and evenly distributed.

-Bake until the edges are baked and golden, but the center is still slightly under-baked, about 18-20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before serving.

(This cookie can last for up to three days tightly wrapped, and at room temperature.)

 

SOURCEJoy the Baker Homemade Decadence: Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Stick, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats by Joy Wilson

P.S. Check out my review of this excellent cookbook here!

 

Valentine’s Day Leftovers

photo-11

The only thing better than eating all of the sweets on Earth on Valentine’s Day, is discovering that you have extras left over for days and days afterwards. Forget the discounted chocolate (but don’t actually because Lindt chocolate ain’t cheap when it’s just a regular Tuesday), the real edible magic after Valentine’s Day are the baked goods. Cupcakes, cookies, brownies, and all heart-shaped. Is it me, or do things just taste better when they’re heart-shaped? It’s just me? Okay.

My generally sad lunch has an upgrade this week in the form of these sweet sugar cookie hearts.

 

I keep going back to Bon Appetit’s Ultimate Sugar Cookie recipe because it’s JUST THAT GOOD.

And don’t forget the royal icing!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day Leftovers Week!