baking

THE BEST F#*!ING SUGAR COOKIES I HAVE EVER MADE

Easter sugar cookies

Sorry for the profanity, but I’m like way too excited about this.

I’ve been on the hunt for a perfect sugar cookie ever since I discovered my passion for baking. I wanted a soft, thick cookie that was sweet but not rot your teeth sweet.

I usually ended up with cookies that were too sugary and too crunchy, and any time I would try to cut thicker cookies they would just end up spreading out and looking like a blob. The cookies were never gross, and people seemed to eat them up, but they weren’t the perfect cookie I always wanted.

So I spent some time this weekend combing my favorite blogs for a new recipe to try out. I landed on this one from Bake at 350 (a new blog discovery that I’m loving). The recipe is appropriately titled “perfect every time sugar cookies.”

I figured I’d give it a shot. I had my doubts when the dough came out crumbly, which the recipe said would happen, but still. I’m looking at it like, I’ve made a huge mistake. But it smoothed out and I calmed down a bit. Then I cut the cookies out, stuck them in the oven, and nearly did a cartwheel when they held their shape.

Then a tried another new thing: buttercream frosting. I always heard it was the bomb, so why not go all out and throw some buttercream on my new and hopefully perfect cookies?

James taste tested the first cookie and he quickly gave me the thumbs up. So I grabbed a little piece of his and shoved it in my mouth and was like OMFG I DID IT! Well, obviously the credit goes to Bake at 350 for creating this wonderful cooke recipe and Wilton for the buttercream recipe, but clearly I NAILED them.

I brought the cookies into work and got so much love. Several people commented that it was the perfect amount of sweet, that the cookies were soft and, of course, incredibly yummy.

Like I said. nailed it.

And since I’m blogging about it, that means I’m sharing the recipe! You’re welcome (;

Ingredients

For the cookies:

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 c sugar

2 sticks butter, cold & cut into chunks (I used unsalted, recipe creator used salted)

1 egg

3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

For the buttercream frosting:

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine softened

1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract

4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons milk (I used whole milk)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line your cookie sheets with

2. Combine the flour and baking powder in a medium size bowl and set aside.

3. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg and extracts and mix.

4. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat until just combined, scraping down the bowl, especially the bottom. * This is a key point. I recently read that you can beat/mix the wet ingredients all day long, but once you add the dry ingredients in you really don’t want to over mix. Stop as soon as the two are combined for the best results.

5. The dough will be pretty crumbly, so knead it together with your hands as you scoop it out of the bowl for rolling.

6. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4″ to 3/8″ thick and cut into desired shapes. * I also realized that over flouring my work surface = over flouring my cookies before baking which = dryer/crunchier cookies. Don’t over do it!

7. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. I went with 10. The cookies were still a nice, pale color with the teensiest hint of golden brown on the bottom. Let the cookies sit a few minutes on the sheet before transferring them to a cooling rack.

8. Now it’s time for the frosting. In a large bowl, beat the shortening and butter until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat in vanilla.

9. Gradually add the sugar,one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape the sides and the bottom of bowl often. Once all of the sugar has been mixed in, the frosting will appear dry. Don’t panic, the next step will fix this.

10. Gradually add milk and beat at a medium speed until light and fluffy.

11. Spread the frosting in cookies using a small spatula or your finger. If you’re adding sprinkles, make sure to do it right after you get the frosting on the cookie. Otherwise it will harden up a bit and the sprinkles won’t stick.

If you’re a sugar cookie fan, give this recipe a try. I promise you will not regret it.

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DIY

MAKE THIS: FLOWER WREATH

flower wreath

A certain someone in my apartment is always complaining about how our neighbor is “beating us” because she has a wreath on her door for every season and we do not.

To correct this injustice in the world and put us on top, I decided to get crafty.

I saw this tutorial the other day and immediately starting brainstorming ideas for a DIY flower wreath. A trip to Michaels for supplies for another project gave me the extra little push I needed to do try it.

And now, I have a pretty peony wreath hanging on my door. I picked peonies because they’re my favorite flower. Michael’s had about six different colors, but I settled on the traditional pink, a peachy coral color and white. I think it’s perfect for spring and summer, don’t you?

Supplies

Styrofoam wreath

Faux flowers

Ribbon

Wire cutters

Scissors

Hot glue & glue gun

Directions

1. Plug in your glue gun and let it heat up. Make sure you’re using a surface that can get a little gunk on it, because the glue might leak out a little.

2. Use the wire cutters to remove the flower heads from their stems. Set the flowers aside. p.s. you can use any flower, in any color in any size. Combining different colors and sizes is totally fine, I just chose to do one type of flower and size to make the project simpler.

3. Take the ribbon and wrap it around the wreath so that it is completely covered. Glue the end pieces to the wreath and let them dry completely.

4. Put some hot glue on the bottom of the flower head, then place it on the wreath. Press down for a few seconds to make sure it sticks. Glue down any pieces that might be sticking up.

5. Continue placing and gluing the flowers down until you’ve covered the entire wreath.

6. Let everything dry for about 15 minutes, then hang the wreath on your front door (:

I might be a little biased, but I think our wreath is prettier than the neighbors. I would prove it to you but I don’t want to get caught taking a photo of my neighbor’s door.

P.S. If I were you, I’d try to find something a little thinner for the wreath base. The one I picked up is kind of bulky, and I think it shows. Maybe not when you’re looking straight at it, but when I was walking by the apartment I could totally tell it was super thick, so it didn’t lay on the door as nicely and barely fit on the hanger.

If I find a thinner solution, I might pluck those peonies off and recreate this wreath For now, I’m fine with it. Especially because I realize this P.S. has been a little on the OCD side, and I promised myself I would start trying to let those things go.

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life & love

RECHARGING MY BATTERIES

relax

My father raised me with certain ideas and principles about what it means to be a good employee.

It’s probably why I started my first job when I was 15 years old, working in the ice cream parlor my grandparents owned. Dad thought it was a good idea for me to start making my own money. Working would teach me responsibility and give me some character. It would make me appreciate my life and my belongings more, you know, to see how hard I’d have to work to pay for all those nice things I had. Plus, working is a major part of life, so why not get startd sooner rather than later? Right?

Dad logic can be legit, but it can also be kind of intense.

Just because my grandma was my boss doesn’t mean I got any special treatment. In fact, I made sure I didn’t. I wanted to be treated like any other employee, which meant that I had to act like I was one. And that meant working my ass off to prove that I deserved to be there.

When my grandparents sold the business, I stuck around with the new owner for about six months before some scheduling problems no longer made it a good fit. Rather than just quit and enjoy my free time, I went straight into my next job as a hostess at a local restaurant. Four months later, I fulfilled my dream to to become a camp counselor at the local YMCA Day Camp I had been attending since I was 10.

And no, I didn’t quit the hostessing job. I did both.

I should have known then that I was a workaholic. I worked 40 hours per week at camp from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., then had just enough time to go home, clean up and be at the restaurant a few nights of week for an additional 20-25 hours.

I did that for three years during the summer. I was exhausted, but I liked it. There’s something about working that makes me feel, I don’t know, good.

I’ve always prided myself on being a good employee. I show up on time, I don’t make excuses, I get my work done and I do it with a smile. I also hardly ever call off sick, even when I probably should. If I’m not dying, I should be at work. That would be some more of dad’s logic kicking in.

The unfortunate consequence of all this non-stop working and borderline psycho mentality about never having a day off has been that I also rarely put in for vacation time. And that’s probably not good.

Last year, I didn’t take a single day off work until the end of August. And even then I only did it because it was a use it or lose it scenario and I figured I why not just give myself a mini birthday vacation?

During that week off, I realized how much I needed to get some separation from work to just… relax. I’m already a high stress/anxiety prone kind of girl, I’ve known it for years. Being a workaholic AND a high stresser pretty much means I am never relaxed. It’s sad really.

So this year, I put in some time off a little early and started a five-day weekend today. I slept in, enjoyed my breakfast while reading the news, took my time getting ready and spent some quality time with Jordy. Now I’m about to clean up the apartment and plan out some crafts/blog posts I want to write in the upcoming weeks.

And to think that last Friday I nearly reached across my editor’s desk to tear my vacation request slip up. Seriously, the psycho stressed workaholic in me nearly did it. I was panicking over how I was going to get all my work done in just three days when one of those days I don’t even get to play reporter. I didn’t think I could do it, and I was willing to sacrifice my vacation (i.e. my mental health rehabilitation period) so that I could work more.

Man, I am a piece of work sometimes.

But I didn’t do it. Because wanting to tear up that paper seemed like the very confirmation of the fact that I needed the time off.

So far my mini vacation is off to a good start! I’m actually looking forward to seeing how the rest of these five days plays out.

Mostly this post has been a way for me to get all of this off my chest, and face the fact that I can be a little crazy when it comes to work and that it has to stop.

But I hope it’s also a reminder to you that we all need to recharge our batteries every once and awhile. Don’t put it off and make yourself crazy. Take a few days to soak up some sun, smell the flowers, sleep, play with your dog, smile, laugh, and just be you. Who knows, it could be just what you need.

Photo credit: Colour Moon

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baking

DID SOMEONE SAY DONUTS?

donuts

Can I just say that I am on fire today? I woke up at 4:30 a.m., went for a run/walk before work, knocked out everything on my to do list, did four interviews, wrote up a few things for the paper AND had time to bake when I got home. Hence the donuts.

I need to start having more days like this one.

Now that I’m finished being all impressed with myself, on to the donuts! I came across this recipe from Coco Cake Land on Saturday and just knew they would be my next baking adventure.

So I went to Michael’s and picked up some donut pans (I think they were about $9 a piece for and made 6 full sized donuts), gel coloring and sprinkles and go to work!

Ingredients

For the donuts:

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup granulated white sugar

1/3 cup golden brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 2/3s cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole milK

For the glaze: 

1 cup of confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

5 teaspoons whole milk

Sprinkles (optional)

Gel colors

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees; spray your donut pans with cooking spray.

2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream together the butter, vegetable oil and sugars until creamy.

3. Add eggs and beat.

4. Mix in the baking powder,  baking soda, nutmeg, salt and vanilla.

5. Begin slowly adding the flour, alternating between the flour and the milk. Mix until well combined.

6. Fill the donut pans about 3/4 of the way full. FYI, I recommend using a piping bag to do this part. I just sort of dumped the batter in on the first batch and it led to uneven donuts with crispy flyaways. You should have enough batter for about 20 or so full-size donuts, more if you’re using a mini pan.

7. Bake your donuts for about 8 minutes or until they are just lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

8. Immediately transfer donuts to a wire rack to cool.

9. While the donuts are cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla and milk to create the icing glaze. If you’re going for one color of icing, consider doubling this recipe. If going for multiple icing colors like I did, make two batches but in separate bowls.

10. Dye the glaze using as much gel coloring as you like. Just remember the more you add the richer the color will be.

11. Dip cooled donuts into the glaze and let the excess run off into the bowl. If you want, add sprinkles while the icing is still wet, then place them back on the wire rack until the glaze dries. To keep your countertops from getting sticky with the runoff, place some parchment paper underneath the wire rack to catch all the drippings.

And that’s it! I couldn’t believe how easy these were to make and I think they turned out nearly perfect. I only say nearly because of those weird uneven donuts I made before I stopped being lazy and used my piping bag.

Think my coworkers are going to be stoked when I show up with these tomorrow morning?

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life & love

ATTEMPT NO. 7350 TO CUT BACK & SAVE MONEY

who doesnt like money

Apparently it didn’t take too long to break my promise to blog two to three times a week. Last week was a lonely week on Adventures with Em, and for that I am sorry.

I could probably rattle off a few good excuses for you, like the fact that I was so tired I thought I was going to fall asleep at the wheel on Monday or that I had a jam packed weekend with the family, but I’ll save you the screen time.

Hopefully this week will be more productive, but I’m guessing it’s going to take some time before this little adventure of mine becomes a habit.

But enough about that.

I was recently inspired to take a long, hard look at my budget and the current state of my checking & savings account. Although what I found did not horrify me, I certainly could stand to do a little less spending. Especially in a few key places.

Have you heard of Mint? It’s a website/app that compiles information from all your checking & saving accounts, credit cards, assets, loans, etc. and shows you detailed information about your spending habits. It also shows you your net worth.

I am proud to tell you that as of March 25, 2014, I am worth a grand total of -$41,889.11. Note the negative sign. Thanks student loans!

In reality, I’m  not in that bad of shape. I was able to save up a nice rainy day fund while I was living with my parents after graduation. The thing is, I haven’t added much to it since I got my own place.

But that’s about to change. Here are three ways I can start banking some more cash by making minor changes to my lifestyle:

1. Stop going out to lunch: I’m a sucker for a Panera bagel and smoothie combo, and ever since we got one 10 minutes from my office I’ve been struggling to stay away. The temptation to sleep in an extra 15 minutes by sacrificing packing a lunch is taking a toll on my wallet. If you don’t have time in the morning (I usually don’t), try packing your lunch the night before. Usually this starts with making sure the kitchen is stocked with lunch foods and snacks. I catch myself going out to lunch more often as a result of not going to the grocery store to buy what I need.

2. Start taking advantage of the community gym: One of the perks of moving into my apartment complex is that it came with a pretty nice gym. It has all the ellipticals, treadmills and free weights a girl could need. And how often do I go? I’ve probably only been a handful of times in the 9 months I’ve lived here. What’s more, is I recently started paying $80 a month to attend 3 yoga classes per week at a nearby studio when my free gym has two free yoga classes per week and the Lululemon at the mall has free classes on Sundays. My excuse was that the free classes didn’t mesh with my schedule, but if I can make it work, I could get the same amount of yoga time for free. Then, if I want to kick it up a notch, I could supplement with maybe one or two classes per week at the studio for just $40 or $60 per month. (It’s so logical it hurts my brain.)

3. Set a realistic shopping/entertainment budget and DON’T break it: When I first started using mint, I was living at home with my parents. I could afford to spend a little more on things I wanted, like clothes, going to the movies or having a few drinks with friends. But now that I have rent and bills to pay, I no longer have that luxury. And yet I still cling to it. I scaled back my shopping budget in Mint, but I still seem to get a notification each month that I’ve busted it. Maybe it’s OK to spend a little more than what I have scheduled, maybe not. Either way, I need to set a realistic goal and stick to it. If that means my shopping budget is killed three days into the month, so be it. Money never gets away from you faster than on a shopping spree that loses control, and it is SO easy to convince yourself going just a teensy bit over budget is OK. We’ve all been there. Being stricter with myself is a start, but staying out of temptation’s way is probably a good strategy too. That means less time spent at the mall, and more in the great outdoors or finding new places to go with friends. And instead of going out to the movies, I know there’s an overflowing queue of movies on my Netflix account just waiting to be watched. That’s not to say I’ll never treat myself with a new pair of shoes or tickets to see my favorite band when they come to town, just that once I hit that ceiling that’s it until next month.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on paying off my credit card. I already invested half my tax returns on that front, which felt very financially responsible of me.

I’ve always prided myself on being smart with my money, it’s just time to be smarter.

How do you save money? Feel free to leave your tips/advice in the comments. I’m sure we all could use some extra inspiration to keep us off the path of empty bank accounts (;

“I mean- Who Doesn’t Like Money?” print is by artist Chris Piascik.

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DIY

PUMPKIN & PEANUT BUTTER PUPPY TREATS

puppy treats

Jordy has always been extremely curious about the kitchen. He’s always poking  his nose around in there, trying to steal a little bite of whatever James & I are cooking up. I’ve even caught him jumping up and throwing his paws on the counter just to get a better look/chance to get a snack.

But James and I have been super strict about not letting Jordy have any people food. We’ve both seen the negative consequences of dogs who have been fed a diet of people food for too long and we promised each other we wouldn’t go there. Although he’s never been rewarded for his adventures in the kitchen, Jordy keeps coming back.

So I thought it was finally time to make something he could actually eat. You know, to make him feel better (:

I googled about 50 recipes for DIY dog treats and I settled on a pumpkin & peanut butter combo. Jordy had peanut butter once at the veterinarian’s office and he absolutely loved it, so I figured it would a safe bet. Plus, his current favorite dog treats have pumpkin in them.

Jordy knew instantly that these little treats were for him. The minute I held one up he started jumping up and down and running around in circles. It took me 5 minutes before I could calm him down. And every time I held up the treat, he would try to give me his paw to shake when all I wanted was to snap a picture! We’ve trained him well apparently, because usually he can’t get his treats without giving us a shake and a hi-five.

I’m pretty sure Jordy loved these. I didn’t get the cute puppy smile like the one he gave me to get his beloved rawhides, but  I could tell he was pleased.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3/4 cup of pure pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)

1/2 cup natural peanut butter

2 eggs

Directions

1. Toss all the ingredients into a stand mixer and beat using the paddle attachment.

2. Once the dough forms, grab a handful of the dough and roll into a giant ball.

3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and use your favorite mini cookie cutter to cut cute little shapes out. Full disclosure, I don’t have any mini cookie cutters and I didn’t want to run out to the store so I used a shot glass. I just turned it upside down and rammed it into the dough as hard as I could. FYI, shot glasses do not make great cookie cutters…

4. Place treats on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 30 minutes.

5. Let the treats cool completely before giving them to your pup. Store in an air tight container.

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baking

BAILEY’S IRISH CREAM COOKIES + DARK CHOCOLATE

Bailey's Irish Cream cookies

I found myself in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit this weekend, so I decided to whip up some shamrock sugar cookies with an irish twist: Bailey’s Irish Cream. Because what’re more Irish than that??

This cookie came to be with the help of several different recipes, but the main cookie recipe I lifted from one of my favorite food blogs, Two Peas and Their Pod. I used her lofthouse style cookie recipe for the base, threw in some Bailey’s, and then dipped the cookies in dark chocolate after being inspired by these irish cream cookies from Buttercream Blondie. I wish I had had some sprinkles on hand to make them pop like they do in her photos.

I will say that the cookies did not come out as irish-cream flavored as I had hoped. If you’re thinking about trying these out,  I would recommend adding more Bailey’s to the recipe (you might then have to add extra flour) or just going with a standard sugar cookie and Bailey’s flavored icing. I’m considering trying the latter option out for next year.

Ingredients

6 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1½ cups sour cream (seriously! it gives the cookies their soft texture)

½ cup of Bailey’s Irish Cream (maybe a bit more)

2 bags of dark chocolate baking chips

Directions

1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees; prepare your cookie sheets by lining them with parchment paper.

2. Combine flour, baking soda & powder and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes or so. Add in eggs one at a time and beat until well incorporated. Add in vanilla extract and sour cream and beat slowly. Add the Bailey’s and beat slowly until well incorporated.

4. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the stand mixer and beat until dough forms. The dough should be a little sticky, but not overly so. If you need to, add more flour until dough is just slightly sticky.

5. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least two hours or overnight.

6. Flour your working surface and roll out the dough to a quarter-inch thickness. Use shamrock cookie cutters to cut out cookies; I used two different sizes for a little variety.

7. Place cookies on cookie sheets and bake in the oven for 7 minutes. The cookies should be slightly golden around the edges. Immediatley transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

8. Place dark chocolate chips in a microwavable safe bowl and heat in 30 second increments, stirring in between.

9. Once cookies are cool, dip the left side of the cookie into the chocolate. Let the excess chocolate drip off the cookie before placing it on parchment paper to dry. If you want to speed up the drying process, chill cookies in the fridge for 30 minutes to set the chocolate.

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