Thursday, January 29, 2015

Valentine's Day Inspiration

I've been looking for some Valentine's Day inspiration, just simple ways to make February 14th feel special and make sure my guys feel extra loved.  My Valentine's Day board on pinterest is one of my favorites, all those hearts, sweet little love notes, and pretty packages!  I have so much fun each year dreaming up ideas.  Above are a few ideas from my pinterest board to get you in the spirit, if you aren't already!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Recipe | Roasted Tomato Jam

I hope you are all keeping warm, wherever you might be! As you can see from the frosty window panes in our kitchen, we have dipped into the single digits here, if zero degrees and negative numbers are really even considered single digits.  School was on a 2 hour delay this morning and I've spent most of the week alternating between baking and sitting in front of the fire.  Warm oven, warm fire, repeat. :)  I've also been doing a lot of reading, my favorite of which is Paddington with Charlie.  It is the first longer chapter book, without pictures, that I've ever read to him.  I choose the original 1950's text, not one of the updated movie versions.  I'm a bit of a purist with children's literature, especially the classics.   I want my boys to experience the original books even if they read and prefer the modern versions later on.  Paddington is extra special to me because it was among my favorite stories and characters when i was little and we've been counting down the days till the movie premiere ever since we saw the first trailer early last year.   
Anyway, with all the talk of marmalade in the Paddington stories, I had the craving to make some of my own.  After the holidays, I feel like even my snacking should incorporate some kind of vegetable to make up for all the overly decadent food I ate over break, so tomato jam seemed the perfect choice.
This is a recipe that I typically make with balsamic vinegar, but Holland House asked me to try incorporating their red wine vinegar into a recipe and thought I'd try swap out the balsamic for red wine vinegar and see if it worked.  It did and the flavor was great.  Where the balsamic tends to mellow the flavors, the red wine vinegar brightens them, making the jam more intense.  Hard to describe without tasting it.  I truly enjoy it both ways.  The jam will keep in an airtight container in your fridge for up to 2 weeks.  (It won't last that long!) It is wonderful on grilled chicken, grilled ham and Gruyere sandwiches, on a cheese board, as a hostess or house warming gift along with a fresh baguette, or just straight from the jar.  It's amazing with whipped feta, goat cheese and Parmesan.  Since the tomatoes are roasted you don't need to add much additional sugar to the jam, which makes it even healthier too.  Enjoy!

Roasted Tomato Marmalade 

5 cups grape tomatoes
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 TBS olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
2 TBS Holland House Red Wine Vinegar
1 tsp light brown sugar
1 pinch red pepper flakes
Pinch of saffron

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss tomatoes, jalapeno and onion with 2 TBS olive oil and place on a sheet pan.  Sprinkle with salt and roast for 50 minutes until tomatoes start to blister.  Remove tomatoes, onion, jalapeno and any accumulated juices and place in a medium sized sauce pan.  Add vinegar, brown sugar, red pepper flakes, and saffron and let it simmer over low heat until almost of the liquid evaporates about 20-30 minutes, occasionally breaking up the tomatoes with a whisk or wooden spoon.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.  Let cool and place in lidded canning jar or air tight container.  Will keep in fridge for up to 2 weeks. 

This is sponsored post written by me on behalf of Holland House Cooking Wines and Vinegars
Recipe and opinions are my own

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Freshened Up Master Bedroom | Before + After

New year, new house projects, they sort of go hand in hand, don't they?  I always feel like something is missing when all the Christmas decorations come down, almost like our home is itching for something fresh to liven things up a bit.  While I'm still pondering what changes to make to our home in 2015, I thought I'd share the before and after pictures of a lovely family's master bedroom that was completed before the holidays.

This home belongs to the darling and incredibly kind hearted Rowe family. It was such a pleasure to give them a fresh perspective on decorating their bedroom, but it is Megan who really took the ideas and ran with them.  Helping decorate a room virtually works well, but it does require a lot of leg work on the end of the client (ordering fabric, lighting, etc., finding painters, seamstresses and carpenters...)  Megan executed the inspiration board beautifully!!   Originally, she contacted me with just a couple questions about new throw pillows for her love seat  (the same one her grandmother rocked her on and where she now snuggles with her 6 yearly daughter) and some thoughts on new bedding.  But, as is usually the case, a few questions turned into a full consult and I'm so glad it did.

great size, comfortable and with pretty touches, but too much brown (walls, wood, frames, lampshades, fabric)

The requests:
keep the toile pillows on the bed
keep the stained wood trim
keep the existing bedroom furniture
keep red in the color scheme since it's her husband's favorite color
keep personal mementos



^^it made such a difference to add a skirted table in place of one of the wood nightstands, it helped to break up the matching furniture just enough without having to change out everything.^^
^^block prints, monograms, checks and linen all add texture and brightened up the room.  check out the pretty red trimmed scalloped sheets and pillow cases too. ^^
how incredible did the loveseat turn out?!!

the drapery details are perfect-o!

 so pretty they deserve two pictures, gorgeous pleats!

^^new mirror (wreath for Christmas!) and blue and white lamp freshened up the dresser area^^

^^but the prettiest part of the room? the family that gets to enjoy it!^^

Thank you sooo much, Megan, for letting me share these pictures and the progress on the room! 
As always, I do not share sources out of respect to paying clients, thanks for understanding.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year + Recipe for Buche de Noel

Happy New Year!! May 2015 be a peaceful year filled with lots of laughter, light hearts and good health!!  We celebrated with a quiet dinner at home in front of the fire, a few noisemakers, an early bedtime for C and midnight hugs and kisses from Jimmy and Andrew.  Perfect.  (on the menu: smoked salmon + chive toasts to start, beef tenderloin, mustard roasted potatoes, arugula salad with herbs and my lemon vinaigrette, champagne and a Yule log cake! I completely forgot I had planned to make gruyere and thyme popovers too.  Oops)

As I've mentioned before, I'm not one to make resolutions to kick off the year since I feel like each day brings opportunities to reflect on ways I can be a better mother, wife, friend, daughter, etc.  Am I giving and showing love the best I can, am I creating a warm and happy home for my family, am I giving my time and energy to things that make a difference, are my expectations and goals both for myself and my family in check, am I present and available to my children when they need me, am I modeling patience and kindness even when it's tough...  These are things I pray for and I'm grateful for the fresh start each day brings, not just each January.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that for New Year's Eve I attempted to make my Mum's Buche de Noel (her traditional Christmas Eve dessert)  Why make it for New Year's when we just had it last week?  Well, I've always wanted to try it and the boys love it, so I figured if I botched it up for New Year's Eve it wouldn't be such a big deal, Christmas on the other hand, well, I don't even want to think about it. :)

Thankfully, I did not botch it up (though my chocolate curls could use some practice) and was rather proud of my first attempt!  I only wish I could have assembled it when it was still light out so that I'd have good photos to show you and do the cake its proper justice.  Growing up, I looked forward to this dessert as much as I did the arrival of Santa.  My Mum tops her with these small wooden angels she bought when we lived in Germany, which, now that I've proven myself worthy ;), are about to become mine.  They will be among my most treasured items.

So, now for the recipe(s)...  This is not a difficult recipe (thanks to all my Mum's guidance and past experience), but it is time consuming and will result in a kitchen full of dirty dishes.  Plan to order pizza or have dinner out the day you make this because you won't feel like cooking once you get everything cleaned up.

The Schedule:
2 Days Before (or up to 3 weeks):  Make the meringue mushrooms
1 Day Before: Make the cake and filling, you can also make the marzipan pinecones + chocolate curls
Day Of: Sugar the rosemary sprigs + cranberries

Meringue Mushrooms:
4 large egg whites at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper
Pastry bag fitted with plain 1/2-inch tip

Combine egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric mixer.   Beat on medium, with the whisk attachment, until soft peaks form.  Gradually sprinkle in sugar, beating at high speed until mixture is very stiff and dull looking.

Scrape mixture into a pastry bag.  Pipe round, button shapes to make mushroom caps onto parchment lined baking sheets.  Pipe pointed "kiss" shapes about 1 inch tall to make stems.  Dust with cocoa.  Bake two hours in 200 degree oven.  (TIP: DO NOT use convection bake)  After 2 hours, turn off the oven and leave the mushrooms inside for another hour until they're completely cooled.

Assemble the mushrooms: Place chocolate in microwave safe bowl and cook till almost melted.  Stir with spoon until completely melted and smooth.  Spread a little chocolate on the flat side of each meringue mushroom cap.  Use a sharp knife to cut off and discard the pointed end of the meringue stems. Attach stem to cap while chocolate is still soft.  Set assembled mushrooms aside until the chocolate has dried and caps and stems are glued together.  They can be made up to 3 weeks ahead of time and stored in an air tight container at room temperature.

Chocolate Curls
I always liked how my Mum's cake had the curls, rather than chocolate icing. I had never made these and with my first attempt I didn't spread the chocolate thin enough so my curls were too thick and rather out of proportion.  The second time I got busy making the potatoes and the chocolate had hardened too much.  Good news is that no matter how they look they taste really good! I figure bark on a real log isn't perfect either.  Just adds to the whimsy.

3 oz. fine quality bittersweet chocolate

Chop chocolate and melt in a small metal bowl over a saucepan with barely simmering water, heat until melted.  With a metal spatula spread the melted chocolate onto a baking sheet (not non stick) as thinly and evenly as possible. Cool chocolate until firm to the touch, but not hard.  With a metal pastry scraper held at an angle, scrape chocolate slowly from the sheet, letting it curl.  Carefully transfer curls to a plate lined with parchment paper.  Refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.  Can be made 1 day in advance.

Sugared Rosemary Sprigs
Fresh rosemary
1 large egg white
1 TBS water
Granulated sugar

Combine egg and water. Using pastry brush apply to rosemary and then sprinkle all over, liberally, with sugar.  Leave out at room temperature to dry completely.  Takes about 3 hours.  These are used just as a garnish on the serving platter.  To create that magical forest look.  We don't eat them or place them on the plates when serving the cake :)

Sugared Cranberries:
(these are optional, my Mum doesn't use them)
10 oz bag of cranberries
cranberry juice

Place cranberries in a colander in the sink, first rise with water, then pour cranberry juice over them to make them sticky, toss with lots of sugar and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Then store in the fridge for at least an hour, up to a day, until ready to use.  Again, these are just for decoration, though if you like really tart things, you could eat them.

Marzipan Pinecones
(optional, but they are delicious and fun to make)
Marzipan paste
Almond slices

Shape about a tablespoon size piece of marzipan into a pinecone shape.  Make the bottom flat so it
stands on the counter.  Starting on the bottom and working your way up, add almond slices.  Store in airtight container at room temperature if making them a day in advance.

Recipe | Buche de Noel
cake ingredients:
6 egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Dash salt
Confectioners' sugar

filling ingredients:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 unsweetened cocoa
2 tsp instant coffee (I use instant espresso)
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. grease the bottom of a 15.5 x 10.5 x 1 inch jelly roll pan; line with waxed or parchment paper; grease lightly.  Preheat the oven to 375.  In a large bowl of an electric mixer beat egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form when the beater is slowly raised.

2.  Add 1/4 cup sugar, 2 TBS at a time, beating until stiff peaks form when beater is slowly raised.  In a clean bowl beat the egg yolks at high speed, adding remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 2 TBS at a time. Beat until mixture pale and very thick - about 4 minutes.

3.  At low speed, beat into egg yolk mixture, cocoa, vanilla, and salt, just until smooth.  With a wire whisk or rubber scraper using an under-and-over motion, gently fold the coca mixture into the beaten egg whites, just until they are blended (no egg white should show).

4. Spread evenly in pan. Bake 15 minutes, just until surface springs back when gently pressed with fingertip.  Sift confectioners' sugar (VERY LIBERALLY) on a clean ,linen dish towel (Tip: use a thick dish towel, without a pattern on it)  Flip warm pan onto dish towel and gently lift off the pan.  I laid the dish towel over a large wire cooling rack, not sure that was necessary but I felt like it helped. This is a bit of a tricky step just because it is awkward, I was afraid the cake would fall (er, fly?) out and break.  I didn't have any trouble though. Beginner's luck? After you've lifted the pan off the cake, remove the paper backing on the cake.

5.  Roll up, jelly roll fashion, starting with the short end, towel and all.  Cool completely on rack, seam side down - at least 1/2 hour.  To make filling: Combine ingredients in medium bowl.  Beat with electric mixer until very thick and then refrigerate.

6.   Unroll cake: spread with filling to 1 inch from edge; re-roll.  Place seam side down on a serving platter; cover loosely with foil.  Refrigerate 1 hour before serving.

To serve:
Top cake with chocolate curls.  Adorn platter with forest garnishes (rosemary sprigs, cranberries, mushrooms, and pinecones). Dust top of cake with confectioners sugar.  Ohhh and ahhh, take pictures and then serve it up!  :)  Dip long knife in a glass of warm water before slicing each slice to make clean and pretty slices.  And top each plate with a couple meringue mushrooms.