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!

 

 

 

Brown Butter and Vanilla Loaf Cake

I’m currently engaged in a fierce (but friendly) food gift war with my next door neighbor.

It all started with a piping hot pan of homemade peach cobbler on the hottest Sunday of the Summer. She appeared from out of nowhere with a dessert that made my heart sing, as we’d recently run out of anything sweet, and the dessert-obsessed part of my brain was getting desperate. We bonded over our similar experiences of living in the Midwest, and our mutual addiction to cookbooks. This had the potential to be a beautiful friendship, so I scoured my archives for a divine recipe for brown-butter Madelines (It may just pop up here!). I brought them over, she was surprised and thrilled, and we chatted for 45 minutes as only people blessed with the gift of nonstop gab can do. I thought that would be the end of it.

The very next week, while in my all-star loungewear (which is what I call the clothing that is too good to donate, but too hideous for any human that does not live in this house to see), I heard the chipper double-ring of the doorbell only to find my dear sweet neighbor with a Danish kringle in-tow from my hometown that is now an 18-hour drive away. It was a delicious surprise, so I knew I had to return the favor quickly.

Here’s something important to remember when you’re caught in a gifting cycle: they don’t all have to be showstoppers. Really, the whole point of giving a gift is to show the person that you appreciate them and that you care. So, do the three-tier cake if you want, but don’t feel obligated. It’s sometimes the simple things that are the most remembered. So, bearing that in mind, this time around I decided to do something very simple indeed: a loaf cake. Super vanilla-y, super buttery, super, super simple. She can have a slice for breakfast. She can have a slice while reading the Sunday paper. She can even have it with tea with a friend. It’s super casual, and a gift that is right up both of our alleys.

Of course, this cake is also great for when you’re craving a sweet treat, but you don’t want to dirty every single bowl and pan in the house. It’s quite straight-forward to make, and takes about 60ish minutes or so to bake. It’s perfect for when you want to keep things really low-key. And did I mention how incredibly moist it is? So moist!

So, make this little cake as a gift, or keep it for yourself. The decision is yours. And it’s tasty.

I’ve been promised a container of homemade soup as soon as the air starts to turn chilly, so the warm and fuzzy food war rages on…

 

BROWN BUTTER AND VANILLA LOAF CAKE 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

DIRECTIONS

Place a rack in the center of the oven, then preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Stack two baking sheets on top of each other, then line the top baking sheet with parchment paper. Butter a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (mine was slightly larger and everything turned out fine!) generously with butter, then coat generously with flour, then lightly tap out the excess. Set the loaf pan on top of the baking sheets and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan set over medium heat and let it come to a boil. The butter will bubble vigorously for about 5-10 minutes. When the bubbles have subsided, the butter should turn a golden brown color, and start emitting a nutty smell. Watch your butter carefully as it is really, really easy to burn it. Once it has reached the golden brown stage with little flecks floating all around, your brown butter is done. Immediately remove from the heat.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking poser, and salt together. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the sugar, then whisk in each egg one at a time, whisking for about 1 minute each until they are all well incorporated. Next, whisk in the vanilla, then the heavy cream. Whisk until everything is fully combined.

Using a whisk or a rubber spatula, gradually stir in the dry ingredients until the batter is thick and smooth. Next, add the melted butter in 2 or 3 additions. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, and smooth out the top so that it is evenly distributed.

Bake the cake for 55-65 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. If the cake starts to brown too quickly at the 30-minute mark, gently place a little aluminum foil on the top, then continue baking.

When your cake is done, transfer it to a wire rack to cool for five minutes, then take it out of the pan and let it cool completely.

To store: Wrap tightly in plastic wrap for up to a week.

 

SOURCE: Baking Chez Moi 

Mini Atlantic Beach Pies

Living a stone’s throw away from the Atlantic Ocean now has gotten me thinking about beach town culture. The locals around these parts are very set in their ways when the sun is shining and you haven’t seen a thermometer drop past 80 degrees in a week. They get up when the sun rises, slather on a healthy coating of sport sunblock, then set up shop at the beach until the sun goes down. And once the sun goes down, if they’ve planned correctly, they’ll have a bonfire on that very same beach. Lather, rinse, repeat.

They’re fueled by frozen lemonades and hot dogs, and vow to be olympic-level good at beach volleyball and sailing everyday until their feet hit the pavement and reality sets in. Every minute is water, sand, and sun, and it’s all incredibly new to me. Sure, in the town I grew up in, in the Midwest, we were lucky enough to live right by the Lake with beautiful beaches and our own fair share of summertime rituals, but it’s just not the same. In the Midwest, fairs and festivals are the name of the game, and stuffing yourself to the very brim with authentic foods of many cultures is how you play to win. But not here. Here, ne’er a pretty Summer day is squandered indoors, and every moment a bull is taken by the horns and ridden all the way to where life begins and ends: the beach. I’ll tell you what, it’ll certainly take a little getting used to (first things first, I’ll have to order a vat of SPF 70 off Amazon), but I plan to be alll about that life one day. Provided there are snacks. And the weather stays between 75 and 79 degrees, as I am prone to fits of hot weather-related complaining.

Can you believe that Summer is unofficially officially over?? Three months just whizzed past. If the humidity hadn’t had its way with my hair from May to present day, I could almost tell you that it never happened at all. And while I’m more than delighted to welcome in my favorite season, Fall, with as many apple cider doughnuts, hay rides, pie baking, and cardigans and flannel as my lil’ heart can take, I’m also a sucker for goodbyes. Why, it wasn’t a mere seven months ago that I was tightly bundled up in a heavy winter coat, greedily bathing my face in the glow of a sun that only gave a whisper of warmth. And the days were short and dark, and I wished for Summer with every breath I took. But you can never appreciate or miss something until it’s gone, so it’s time for Summer to TTFN so I can remember what it was like to love it once more. To give it a proper adieu, I chose to make my favorite dessert: pie, in miniature form because who doesn’t love a PERSONAL PIE, with a little wink and nod to my new-ish new home. Hello, Atlantic Beach Pie.

At its core, this Atlantic Beach Pie is the baby of a Key Lime pie and a Lemon Meringue pie. It has both lemon and lime juice, a saltine cracker crust, and delicious, over-the-top, fluffy and puffy meringue; if so you choose to whip up a batch and use it. (P.S. You’ll have so many egg whites leftover. Make the meringue.)

There are many, many things that I love about these baby Atlantic Beach pies. For starters, the saltine cracker crust, a detour from the usual graham cracker crust found in basic Key Lime and Lemon Ice Box pies, reminds me of the beach, and transports me to those sunny sand-filled days everyone from my neighbor to the bank teller are always raving about. I love the freshness and brightness that the just-squeezed citrus juices bring to the table. The pies are so fragrant that even a quick whiff of one in passing can wake me right up. And most of all, these are pies that I can not only give to those friends and loved ones who absolutely adore citrus desserts, but also to those friends who *GASP* aren’t dessert people. They’re sweetened by a few tablespoons of sugar in the crust, and the sweetened condensed milk, and that’s it. There’s enough sweetness to keep your sweet-tooth happy, but overly-sweet they are not. It’s a win-win for every party, and I can go to bed at night knowing that even the most savory-oriented people can compromise every once in a while. Plus, and I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: WHO DOESN”T LOVE PERSONAL PIES? They’re just too cute to resist.

In conclusion, now is the time to raise our forks to a lovely, hot, and humid summer by digging into petite summer-tastic citrusy pies, and reminiscing about the good times. Cheers, Summer ’16. It’s been real.

 

Now, pass me that can of pumpkin, would ya? We’ve got work to do.

 

MINI ATLANTIC BEACH PIES

Makes 4 6-inch pies (these are the ones I use from WS!) 

What You’ll Need:

For the crust:

  • About 2 1/2 sleeves of salted saltine crackers, or about 120 crackers
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar

For the pies:

  • Two 14-ounce cans of Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
  • 8 egg yolks (save the whites to make a tasty meringue!)
  • 1/2 cup lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • Lime zest, for garnish

DIRECTIONS 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Take out two baking sheets, set them aside.

Finely hand-crush the saltine crackers in a large bowl, but be careful not to crush them so much that they become cracker dust. Add the sugar and stir to mix. Next, add the butter and knead it in until the cracker crumbs come together like a dough. Take out your four mini pie plates, then press the dough evenly into each. (Note: You may end up with more pie dough than pie plates to press it into, and that’s perfectly fine. Better to have too much than not enough when it comes to mini pies!)

Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, or freeze for 10-12. Once your pies have chilled, place two on each baking sheet and bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the crusts have gotten nice and golden brown. Let them cool slightly.

While your pie crusts are cooling, it’s time to make the filling. Start off by beating the egg yolks into the milk until everything is completely combined. Next, add the citrus juice. At first, the  juice may sit right on the top and make your custard look very thin and watery. It is very, VERY important that you stick with it and carefully stir it (it tends to splash all around at first) until all of your ingredients are completely combined. You’ll start to see it thicken to a normal consistency again, just give it a little time.

Once your custard has come together, pour it into each pie plate, making sure to avoid overfilling them. Carefully set your pie plates (if you haven’t already) back on their baking sheets, then bake the pies for 16 minutes until the filling has set.

Let your pies cool on cooling racks for 15-20 minutes, then pop them into the fridge to chill completely (they must be absolutely cold in order to be sliced.)

When you’re ready to serve, top each with a lovely meringue using your leftover egg whites (here’s a great tutorial from The Kitchn!), or freshly whipped cream, then top with a lemon or lime wedge, citrus zest, or coarse sea salt as a garnish.

 

SOURCE: Adapted from Food52

NYT Blueberry Muffins

SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME (…the early 1990s…) blueberry muffins have been a staple in my life. They’re the go-to treat when I’m in an airport and want something sweet in a hurry. They’re my pick-me-up when I have them on-hand and I’ve had a rough day. They’ve been in the Special Sunday Breakfast rotation at my house for two whole decades. They’re just the epitome of classic baked goods in my book.

Before I became a baker and didn’t truly know what a difference home-baking could make in a person’s life, my go-to if I wanted blueberry muffins was the store-bought boxed mix. You know which one I’m talking about, don’t you? The one with a  cellophane  bag full of flour mix and chemicals, and a slim tin can full of tiny, preserved blueberries swimming in syrup. Then you just had to add a few eggs and a cup of milk, and you were on your way. At the time, those muffins, always served still-warm from the oven and a bit crispy (if not a little dry to be honest) on the outsides tasted great, but it hasn’t been until I was the age and stage that I am now that I realized I could’ve been having it so much better all this time.  Don’t get me wrong; those mixes definitely have their place…somewhere, but, my friend, fresh is always best. Sure, it may take a little longer to measure out all the ingredients when you’re making blueberry muffins from scratch, but really, how much time are you actually  saving by using boxed cake mix? Not as much as you think.

Despite the fact that blueberry muffins are such a classic, there are perhaps dozens of ways that you can prepare them. And believe me, as someone who has had her fair share of muffins, I’ve also tried a fair share of those recipes. One particular favorite of mine (and incidentally one of the first recipes I EVER tried) comes from Joy the Baker. She doesn’t stray too far from the standard, but she takes things up a notch in her recipe with the inclusion of melted brown butter instead of regular-old softened and unsalted. It brings a sort of nuttiness and depth of flavor that I just absolutely love.

And while that recipe is definitely wayy up there on “Sydney’s Favorite Baked Goods, Blueberry Muffin Category” list, something inside me was desperately seeking a recipe that stayed within tradition. If I’m going to have that perfect cup of coffee early on a Sunday morning, with the window shades opened and the glow of dawn seeping in, I want to capture that moment just-so. I want that feeling of being in a coffeehouse somewhere where they serve you cafe treats exactly the way they were intended to be served and consumed: no muss, no fuss, just something that tastes phenomenal. Enter: the New York Times Blueberry Muffins.

These muffins are the perfect celebration of summer blueberries (although, frozen and thawed blueberries will work perfectly well when it’s off-season). It calls for two cups, which means that all twelve of these muffins are packed with plump antioxidant-rich blueberries just waiting to burst when you bite into them. And as much as I love a good crispy, crumbly topping made out of flour, sugar, and butter, sometimes a little coarse sugar will also do the trick of adding a bit of texture quite nicely.

Hey, blueberry muffins are a classic for a reason.

 

NYT BLUEBERRY MUFFINS

What You’ll Need:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened (I’ve been really into Irish butter lately! Have you heard about Kerrygold?)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 cups blueberries, washed, drained, and picked over
  • 3 teaspoons sugar

(Baker’s Note: Some of the commenters suggested that the blueberries should be rolled in a bit of flour before being added to the batter to prevent them from sinking while baking. I tried it, and it’s definitely something to consider!)

 

Find the recipe HERE from the New York Times!