Saltine Toffee

Saltine toffee is sooooo delicious. I made it over the holidays for my boyfriend's family. It's really fun to make and has a nice rustic look when it's all said and done. You don't really taste the saltine, it's basically just a vehicle for chocolate and toffee that disappears in all the deliciousness. The toffee turns out with a soft crunchy texture. It's really hard to stop eating! I made half just plain chocolate, and half with crushed up candied cashews on it. 

Ingredients:

40 saltine crackers (about one tube)
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Something to sprinkle on top (I used crushed up candied cashews I'd made) 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray it very well with cooking spray. 
  2. Place saltine crackers in one layer on the bottom of the pan. 
  3. Combine butter and sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Once the mixture has boiled, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 3–5 minutes. The mixture will thicken slightly. Stir mixture the entire time to avoid scorching. 
  4. Remove it from the heat, wait 30 seconds, add the vanilla extract and stir.
  5. Pour this over the prepared pan with the crackers. The crackers may move a little bit; this is fine.
  6. Bake it for 5–7 minutes, or until toffee becomes bubbly.
  7. Remove the pan and let it rest for 3–5 minutes.
  8. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips and wait for 4 minutes. The chocolate will soften and melt a little bit, and you can spread it out with a spatula. 
  9. Once the chocolate is smoothed, add the candied cashews, or whatever else you have on hand that sounds delicious. 
  10. Let cool very well. Refrigerate or freeze to expedite cooling. Break or cut into pieces. 

Holiday Gift Guide (for Your Girlfriend)

It can be hard to figure out what to get your girlfriend for the holidays, especially if you've waited until the last minute. PSA: Christmas is next week! I always like a good mix of practical vs. impractical gifts...though I lean heavily towards practical. So I've put together a gift guide for each. Pick 1 or 2 items from each guide depending on which way your girlfriend leans. 

For the impractical girlfriend. Although she doesn't need anything, you still have to get her something: 

1. Fujifilm Instax Mini – Purchase on Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Michaels and more. I wonder if Michael's will let you use their 40% off coupon? Either way, this is a fun gift for your girlfriend to preserve her memories. 

2. MeUndies – Matching underwear for both of you? How sweet! Check out their sweet Christmas pattern on their website

3. Jewelry – Find a unique piece of jewelry that you feel represents her. 

4. Semi-permanent Tattoos – These are awesome two week tattoos that would be fun for an occasion like a music festival or a party. 

5. Something for her homeSociety6 has thousands of patterns that you can apply to products like pillows, blankets, pictures, and more. 

For the practical girlfriend. Although she says she doesn't want anything, here are some fun and functional things she'll love:

1. Something functional – Get her something that simplifies her life. Is she carrying around an old wallet or purse stuffed with things you both know she doesn't want? Find something beautiful that will encourage her to lighten the load.

2. Something to do together – Whether it's a book to read together, or an activity you found on Groupon, practical girls love to collect experiences. 

3. A gift for someone else – Buy her a gift card to Kiva where she can distribute the money to someone in need. Or take her on a date to volunteer or do something meaningful. 

4. Her favorite snack – This reminds her you notice and love the little things about her. Splurge on a snack she wouldn't normally buy for herself. And if it's pancake mix? Might as well do breakfast in bed...

5. A Candle – What's nice about a candle? It gets used up. It has a function and then it's gone; a practical girl's dream gift. And hey, when this one is finished, it's also a cute bowl. 

Biscuits

I'm sitting here, compelled to write a great story about why I made these biscuits. But do I really need to explain a biscuit craving? Nah. This is an easy and delicious recipe that will not disappoint, I promise. I made them for bacon, egg, & cheese biscuits, but I think I'd even prefer them with just butter; that's how good they are. But, hey, I have to sneak some protein in my diet somewhere....preferably right between two flakey, buttery biscuit halves.

I will add that I went to an awesome music festival last weekend. This is relevant because when I needed biscuit-making-music, I chose this awesome band I saw there — Driftwood.  There's something healing about listening to something meaningful while working with your hands. 

Baking the biscuits just 1/2 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. 

Baking the biscuits just 1/2 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. 

These biscuits end up having a really imperfect and rustic look to them which I like. I also think this recipe would lend itself well to a Bo-berry Biscuit knock-off, so that will definitely be my next endeavor. 

♥ 2 cups all purpose flour
♥ 4 tsp baking powder
♥ 1/4 tsp baking soda
♥ 3/4 tsp salt 
♥ 2 Tbsp shortening
♥ 3 Tbsp salted or unsalted butter, (grated with cheese grater)
♥ 1 cup cold buttermilk
♥ extra buttermilk for biscuit tops

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. 
3. Using your fingers, cut shortening into flour mixture.
4. Use a fork to cut cold, grated butter into the flour mixture. Work quickly so the butter stays cold.
5. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the buttermilk.
6. Working from the outside in, use a spoon to bring the flour into the center, folding until the buttermilk is incorporated into the flour. (just until combined) 
7. Gather dough into a ball, and turn out onto a well floured surface.
8. Flour your hands, then lightly fold it in half in a gentle kneading motion 10 times.
9. Pat dough into a rectangle just under an inch thick.
10. Cut the dough into squares. This will make 9 large biscuits. 
11. Place biscuits onto an ungreased baking sheet, close together but not touching.
12. Brush tops with extra buttermilk and bake 15-17 minutes until golden brown on top.

Recipe adapted from The Merchant Baker

The Coolest Mom

My mom has always been really creative with gifts, and I was really stressing last weekend because I'm moving into a new apartment (by myself), and there is just a lot of stuff that I don't have. I needed help getting organized, and I was also getting wary about how much it was going to cost to buy boring things...like cleaning supplies! So mom made me the best "birthday cake" ever out of apartment supplies. Voila!

Isn't this the cutest thing? I think it's such a good idea for friends moving into a new place! It's certainly a big weight off my shoulders. Click to download the "recipe." 

My New TV Stand

I did a fun redo this weekend with the help of many family members (Mom, Dew, Kyle, Aunt Paula, Uncle Steve –thank God for them). I don't think I would have finished it without their help. My dad must have held a spot light on me for an hour while I worked at night.  

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I got this piece for free, and it was in pretty miserable shape. I generally like to stay as far away from stripping paint as possible, but I knew it would have to be done to this guy. It already had 2 layers of paint and the surface was extremely uneven — not something a good old-fashioned sanding could get rid of.

I thought I'd outline some stripping tips for you guys (not that kind of stripping). First of all, only strip if you need to (this does apply to both kinds of stripping). It is tedious and can break the most patient of people. I always use Citristrip. It's low-odor and works very well. You put it on in a thin layer, but try not to stroke too much. It's not like painting — as much as possible just do one clean stroke. Cover all the paint and let is set for several hours. 

Eventually, the paint will begin to bubble up and you can do a test area. If you did it right, it should come off clean with a spatula. 

I had to do this process twice to get all the nooks and crannies. But afterwards, you'll see, it looks pretty darn clean. I considered leaving some of the wood showing actually, but it had some pretty nasty water stains on top, so I painted the whole thing.

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I used Annie Sloan's chalk paint (the best paint) in Provençe. And I only gave it one coat, because I liked how some of the wood still shows through. It came with this beautiful brass handles and plates, and I hadn't planned on doing anything to them. But then my Aunt Paula showed me that a little steel wool will do for old hardware! Who knew?!

This took many hours of work, and like I mentioned, a lot of help from my family, but I really like how it turned out. And now, every time I look at it, I'll think of an awesome weekend well-spent. Here is my aunt and mom modeling the final product. 

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My Nutrition Lesson

Every time I get on the internet, I'm bombarded by the new diet: veganism, 30 day diet, paleo, this, that, and the other. Oh, and if you don't do these things, your brain is going to explode or you are going to get cancer. Well, with all these different opinions, it's very hard to parse the information. I've always subscribed to the whatever-I-can-afford + everything-in-moderation diet. But I do have one small problem...I eat almost exclusively bread, cheese, and sugar. In case you couldn't tell by the food I put on my blog, I'll officially admit it now. Clearly this may be an issue...but I just don't like meat or vegetables that much, and I really hate cooking. Plus it's hard to buy and cook anything perishable when you are only feeding one. 

I finally had enough last friday when I read the inside cover of "Grain Brain." Convinced I was going to die from a carb overdose, I finally made an appointment with a nutritionist. And by appointment, I mean I met her at a graduation party that night and we talked over sangria and BBQ. It was love at first site. She was very realistic and practical, and does not follow any "diet." She has an undergrad and graduate degree in nutrition and currently works prescribing cancer patients appropriate diets. You'll just have to take my word for it that she is legit. I asked her a million questions and here is what I learned:

1. If you are a relatively healthy young person (like me), everything in moderation isn't too far off...in fact, it's how she lives. 

2. But you have to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. As many as possible. 

3. Oh, and if you are eating the skins of those fruits and vegetables (berries, apples, broccoli, etc.), buy organic. 

4. Never buy deli meat unless it is nitrate free.

5. If you drink milk, only drink organic. Oh yeah, girls out there, did you know you stop absorbing calcium into your bones between the ages of 25 and 28? 

6. Try to stay away from processed foods....sorry lean cuisine. You are somewhat delicious and very convenient, but our love affair has to end.

7. Now, what about white sugar? Isn't it the worst thing ever? Well, my very special nutrition friend says no. Our bodies process all sugar the same way (white sugar, organic sugar, honey, etc.). It all turns to glucose in our bodies, so as long as we aren't eating it in moderation, we are good. Thank God.

So the take away from all of this is that I don't actually have to change my diet that much. Really, I'm just going to add milk, as many fruits and vegetables as I can, and take away as much processed food as possible. But I won't beat myself up over the occasional indulgence. Just like she didn't when the options were BBQ and sangria or not eating at all.

Now, I'm not writing this to change anyones mind or rebuke anyone who is on a "diet" – vegan, gluten-free, whatever it may be. I'm writing this for those of you who are like me, and don't want to think or fret too much, but do want to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For those of you who get paranoid every time you see a new diet article and who are on a strict food budget. After talking to her, I felt like eating healthy is actually more common sense than anything else. 

So with all that being said, here is a cauliflower and cheese recipe. My way of sneaking more vegetables into my life. 


2 large cauliflower heads  2 Tbs. butter or margarine♥ 3 Tbs. all-purpose flour  2 cups low-fat milk  1 clove garlic, minced  2 cups cheese (I used sharp cheddar and monterey)   cayenne pepper + salt + pepper to taste  2 egg yolks

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Chop up the cauliflower heads. Add them to the boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Pour cauliflower into a greased 13 x 9 inch pan.

2. Preheat the oven to 350F.

3. Melt the butter in a large pot. Whisk in the flour, stirring constantly for 1 minutes. Whisk in the milk, garlic, reserved cooking liquid, and cook/whisk for 7-10 minutes. The sauce will thicken.

4. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, salt/pepper/cayenne, and egg yolks.

5. Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower and fold if necessary. 

6. Bake for 20 minutes. Top with extra cheese and continue baking for 10-20 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Yoga Journal.

Alfajores

I finally got around to doing a Peruvian inspired dessert (based on a true story of the time I went to Peru). Well, it's not so much inspired by...it's just straight Peruvian. As you well know, I eat almost exclusively desserts, and while I wasn't loving the savory Peruvian options, I devoured their sweets. So today I made alfajores...or shall we say Alfa-squirrel-es????

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Alfajores are dulce de leche sandwiched between two shortbread cookies, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. In my vaaaasssttt experience with alfajores, I felt that the double shortbread was just too much cookie and you were kind of missing the dulce. So I unsandwiched mine — or rather, I never sandwiched them at all. I used my very easy and very delicious go-to shortbread recipe. Seriously you can't miss with this one. They're buttery, and soft and crunchy.

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While the shortbread was easy, the dulce de leche was quite the new experience for me (such an emotional roller coaster). First of all did you know that it's just made from sweetened condensed milk? Dulce...sweet...leche....milk. Who knew? 

I made some more traditionally shaped alfajores as well.

I made some more traditionally shaped alfajores as well.

The construction is pretty easy here. Just slather some dulce onto your cookie and then sift some powdered sugar over the top. I was pretty generous with my dulce because, hey, what am I gonna do with it afterwards? Sit in bed pantsless and eat it? Let's not leave that as a valid option. 

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I love working with shortbread dough because a) it's delicious and b) it requires you to throw flour all over the counter. This always reminds me of my grandma and the cookies she used to make. She used flour so much in her everyday life that she had an entire kitchen drawer full of it. And no, I don't mean she had a drawer full of bags of flour. I mean she poured flour straight into a drawer so she would always have easy access to it. 


Easy Shortbread cookies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:
1Cream butter and powdered sugar using a mixer until fluffy and light in color. Mix in the vanilla.
2Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour until just incorporated. 
3Form the dough into a nice ball cover it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
4Preheat your oven to 350 F.
5Lightly flour your surface and roll out the dough. Use a cookie cutter to create your desired shapes.
6Bake the cookies for 10 to 14 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned.
7Let the cookies cool completely and then "frost" with your dulce de leche. I used this really awesome recipe. All you need is 1 can of sweetened condensed milk.
8Use a sifter to sprinkle with powdered sugar. But if you don't own a sifter (like me) you can use a strainer. It's a bit messier but it gets the job done.

Thanksgiving & the Chocolate Torte

Well, I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I always go home for this holiday, an I'm only in charge of two things in the kitchen....the dessert and they gravy. I know, I know BIG responsibilities. But my mom never lets me help and it's definitely because I'm very messy in the kitchen and it drives her nuts. But anyways....I made this chocolate torte with Kahlua whipped cream. And no, unfortunately I can't take the credit. Both these recipes came from the lovely Chew Out Loud duo and they are really wonderful.

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There are a few very important things I need to say about this torte. First of all, this torte is not for the faint of heart. It's intensely chocolately. The nice thing about this is that a smaller piece is satisfying, because it's just so dang sweet. Another thing to note is that this cake is flourless (which also makes it gluten free). But the point is this cake is wonderfully dense (and yet somehow still light), and is more of a fudge consistency than anything else. You know when you make a cheesecake and the inner circle is nice and dense and cheesy and then you get to the outer edge (AKA the last bite!), and it's all filmy and yuck? I had expected this cake to have that problem. But it's truly dense and fudgey until the last bite!

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See that fudgey edge? Ohhhh yeeeaaaah. Also the Kahlua whip cream was a great touch, and I had a lot of fun piping it on there. I don't get to pipe very often and I'm usually terrible at it, but I was pretty happy with this particular performance. 

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I was very lucky this Thanksgiving to see some dear old friends...the girls to whom I give full credit for getting me through high school. We took the above picture in 2006 (all of us were 17 or 18) before we went to college. We took the bottom one last night. So fun to see how far all of us have come. And I'm not just talking about our stunning good looks...

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As for today we mostly relaxed at home. Playing pool, being weird, and maybe or maybe not sneaking out at 6pm to check out the swarms of people buying TVs. 

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Ingredients

  • ½ cup prepared strong coffee
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 18 oz bittersweet chocolate (I used ghiradelli) 
  • 1 cup softened salted butter, cut into pieces
  • 6 eggs
  • pot of boiling water

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300F. Set your water to boil but keep it on medium so it takes a while. This will give you plenty of time to prepare your mixture.
  2. Line a springform pan with parchment paper. Grease the parchment and sides of your pan. Sprinkle with cocoa powder. Wrap the edges of pan with thick foil.
  3. Combine the prepared coffee and sugar. Stir over medium heat until sugar is comletely dissolved. Set aside.
  4. In a double boiler, stir the bittersweet chocolate chunks until melted. 
  5. Transfer melted chocolate into a large mixing bowl. Slowly beat the butter into the chocolate, 1 piece at a time. Gently beat in the hot coffee/sugar mixture.
  6. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, just until combined. 
  7. Pour batter into prepared springform pan. Place the springform pan into a large baking dish and pour your boiling water into it ensuring you don't accidentally pour water all over the torte. 
  8. Bake for 45 minutes. The center should be wettish and a bit jiggly, with edges and top looking done. 
  9. Let cake cool to room temp in springform pan, and then cover/chill overnight in fridge. Keep chilled until ready to serve. 

Whipped Cream Ingredients

  • 4 tsp water
  • 1 tsp plain gelatin
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 TB powdered sugar
  • 1 T Kahlua 

Directions

  1. In large mixing bowl, stir the heavy whipping cream, vanilla extract, powdered sugar, and Kahlua. Put this bowl in fridge to keep cold.
  2. Mix gelatin with water in a microwave safe bowl.  Let sit for about 10 min.  Microwave for about 20 seconds. 
  3. Take out the bowl with whipped cream ingredients.  Beat on medium until ribbons form.  Stop beating and ensure that your gelatin mixture is still liquid and almost cool. Resume beating whipped cream mixture, while slowly pouring in liquid gelatin into the mixture. Beat to stiff peaks. Keep in fridge until ready to use.

Kahlua Whipped Cream source | Chocolate Torte source

A Great Face for Radio

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What? I'm going to be on the radio. When? On November 24th at 10pm tune into KineticHifi to hear Artist Dealings Charleston. You can listen live on their website. It's a weekly segment typically featuring Charleston's great artists. But luckily for me they branch out to other cities

Why? I'll be answering some questions and talking about some exciting new ventures I have planned for the near future. How? do you feel?  Nervous! Now's a good time to add "be on the radio" to my bucket-list.

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