March Reads

The 23 Best Parts Of Being A Book Lover

So happy to be back with a much more exciting reading update than last month’s post.  And what’s even better is that my dear sister-in-law just cleaned out her bookshelves and let me have first pick at what she can’t make space for anymore.  Hello all 5 Jane Austen volumes I have yet to read.

Just Read:

I’ll Drink to That, by Betty Halbreich

Because Shauna said it was good.  Thank you Shauna.  I don’t have enough good things to say about this book.  But I’ll try.  Betty is a personality, which is crystal clear from page one.  She doesn’t mince words.  She’s honest.  And she’s a damn classy lady.  I can tell.  Betty offers a glimpse into her world at the “Solutions Center” (though she despises the name) at Bergdorfs.  She is a woman who knows things, not just about effortless style and celebrities, but about life, and what makes it hard, and what makes it beautiful.  My new spirit animal, to be sure. (p.s.  After you’ve read it, watch “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorfs” on Netflix.)

Reading:

A Disease Called Childhood, by Marilyn Wedge

Because I see a lot of ADHD in my day to day life, and the premise is intriguing.  Just how real is this disorder?  The book referred to Bringing Up Bebe in the introduction, and is already citing the French and the Finns as model examples of child rearing.  If their children don’t have ADHD, how come ours do?  I’m intrigued, but some chapters read like a textbook, so I can only get through about one or two at at a time.

Want to Read:

Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Because Shauna recommended this one, too, and because portraits of marriages are my favorite.  I’m nosy, and I love getting an inside look at something, even if it is a fictional coupling.

February//January//December//November

(source)

B1G Cookies [buckeye brownie cookies]

Now that the Terps have switched over to the B1G (Big Ten), my husband and I find ourselves looking for new rivals.  Our storied past in the ACC left us with a lot of hate, and we don’t know where to channel it right now.  The problem is, everyone in the midwest is so darn nice.  Like my coworker who brought buckeyes* into work after a big OSU win.

brownie buckeye cookies.

We only talked about them for weeks afterward, up until I made these.  Buckeye brownie cookies.  They’re a twist on the Ohio classics, and incredibly rich.  I’m someone who loves a baked good or two or three or four, and I could only get through one of these at a time.

To make 2 dozen cookies, you will need:

  • 1 box fudge brownie mix (19.5 ounce or family size)
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 4 oz. (1/2 block) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 4 ounces chocolate (for melting–so chips, or chopped)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, beat the brownie mix, butter, cream cheese, and egg. The dough will be a little sticky. Scoop the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet, making about 24 cookies. Smooth the edges of each to form a round cookie.

In a separate bowl, mix the powdered sugar and the peanut butter until it is completely combined. Form the mixture into about 1 inch balls. Make sure you have one ball for each cookie. Set aside.

Bake for the cookie dough 12 minutes, keeping an eye out to make sure the cookies doesn’t over cook or undercook.

As soon as the cookies come out of the oven, press a peanut butter ball lightly into the center of each cookie. The peanut butter mixture will soften slightly, but that is OK. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

Melt the 4 blocks of chocolate in a microwavable bowl for 45 seconds. Stir the chocolate and melt for additional 15 seconds or until the chocolate is completely melted. (Candiquik comes in 16 ounce packages. When you open it, there are 16 blocks. Cut off 4 of these blocks for this recipe.) Spoon about ½ a tablespoon of melted chocolate on top of each cookie so it covers the peanut butter ball. Let the chocolate set. Store in an airtight container.

*a note: The buckeye is the Ohio State mascot, and also a nut from a tree, and also a delicious chocolate peanut butter ball.  Here is my version, albeit impure.

Why Don’t We Put Flaky Sea Salt on Everything? [salted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies]

In case it’s news to anyone who reads this blog, AGOMYR and I think about food almost all the time.  We’re those kind of people.  Constantly swapping pins back and forth, in search of the perfect cookie.  I cam pretty close here.

salted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

To make 2 dozen salted oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, you will need:

  • 2 C oats
  • 1 C flour
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. flaky sea salt, separated
  • 3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 6 oz. chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli discs)

Heat oven to 375° F with the rack in the upper and lower thirds. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.

Combine the oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat the butter, shortening, granulated sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until lightly and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined (do not overmix). Stir in the chocolate.

Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt.

Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until lightly brown around the edges, about 10 to 12 minutes. Cool slightly on the baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

On Willpower [pumpkin spice latte cupcakes]

The (Not So) New Girl has better willpower than anyone I know.  Our workplace is often overflowing with cookies, brownies, and whatever leftover piece of grocery store sheet cake from your grandma’s birthday celebration your family didn’t want.  Once Mrs. CV(D) and I decide something is worth the calories, we go all out, and eat to our heart’s content.  But not The (Not So) New Girl.  She values restraint and moderation, and I do admire her for that.

pumpkin spice latte cupcakes.

I just don’t know how she does it.

This is all a long-winded way of saying that The (Not So) New Girl had a birthday, and it took a full 363 days of life after it happened for me to make her cupcakes.  We had to find a window in which I had time to bake and she deemed it acceptable to consume the calories.  And if that day was two days before her next birthday, then so be it.  She requested Pumpkin Spice Latte cupcakes.  I’m affectionately titling them “basic” cupcakes, to be best enjoyed while wearing yoga pants and Uggs.

To make 24, you will need:

For the cupcakes:

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp. espresso powder
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. salt
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 large eggs
½ cup coffee or espresso, for brushing

For the icing:

2¼ cups heavy cream, chilled
¼ cup confectioners’ sugar

For garnish:

Caramel sauce
cinnamon

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Stir together and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend together the pumpkin, granulated sugar, brown sugar and oil. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. With the mixture on low speed, add the flour mixture in two additions, mixing just until incorporated.

Fill the cupcake liners about three-quarters full. Bake until the cupcakes are golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes, then remove the cupcakes from the pans. While the cupcakes are still warm, brush them two or three times with the coffee or espresso, allowing the first coat to soak in before repeating. Let cool completely.

To make the frosting, place the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium-low speed at first, gradually increasing to high speed. Blend in the confectioners’ sugar gradually. Whip until stiff peaks form, being careful not to over-beat. Use a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip to frost the cooled cupcakes. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon and drizzle with caramel sauce. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.

 

Do You Play Games?

Dear readers, do you play games?

Like, when your friends come over, or when you go there, do you play games?

I never do, but I’m starting to think I’m in the minority.

games

This is SCL and her siblings playing a game (though not the one in the box she is holding).  Her brother is obsessed, and he brings them with him whenever he returns home for the weekend.  In their company over SCL’s last two birthdays, I’ve been introduced to Seasons, Coup, and Sushi Go. (The first two sailed straight over my head, while Sushi Go was a great time.)

While hanging out with one of my favorite teenagers, my husband and I were introduced to Settlers of Catan.

Cari Faye is always up for Cards Against Humanity, and during a recent snowstorm, The (Not So) New Girl spent all day playing games.

So I guess games are a big deal, and I’m missing out.  What good ones should I know about? I was thinking that if Sunday Dinners are going to be a reality, we should keep a couple up our sleeves for some of those evenings.

What I’m Loving Right Now

Happy Tuesday, dear readers.  How are you?

cava.

I had the most wonderful 4 day weekend, that involved lots of baking, reading, and watching TV.  Here are 3 weekend favorites:

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – I am done with season one.  Thirteen episodes.  Two days.  Done.  My friend K.Reza turned me on to it, and it’s amazing.  It involves Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, and figuring out the problems of the world with a Babysitters Club Super Solver Mystery.

City.Ballet – It was only a matter of time before I finally plowed through the mini-episodes (about 6 minutes each).  They’re narrated by SJP, and they’re beautifully done.  The world of ballet fascinates me.  I’ve never been to one, but have always wanted to go.  I imagine I’d end up watching with tears streaming down my face a la Julia Stiles in “Save the Last Dance.”

The Lively Show with Brooke White – I’ve watched a couple seasons of American Idol, and one that I watched in full was Brooke White’s (Season 7).  I remember how much I loved her that year, and now I can say, that love was a smart move.  This girl is beautiful, inside and out, and this podcast was amazing.

Happy Birthday Sous Chef Lauren [brown butter cupcakes with bourbon buttercream]

They’re quite alliterative, really.

But more importantly, it’s Sous Chef Lauren’s birthdayyyyyyyy!!!!!

scl and me.

(Oprah voice.  You could probably tell.)

Well, it was Sous Chef Lauren’s birthday.  On Saturday.

me and scl.

And much like the way we became friends, which was because I told her we were going to be, I invited myself to her birthday party.  It involved a chef coming over and teaching us to cook a four course meal.  With a wine for each course.  And a lot of cheese.  It was everything.

cooking lesson.

I also told her I’d be making cupcakes.  Because I always make them for my coworkers, and it doesn’t seem right that SCL never gets in on any of that.

She asked for something with cream cheese frosting and I….

brown butter cupcakes with bourbon buttercream.

Didn’t make that.  I made brown butter cupcakes with bourbon buttercream.  Whoops.  I was limited by the combination of my pantry and the 5.5 inches of snow falling on the ground.  I wasn’t going to the store, so I had to work with what I had.  And what I had were the ingredients for brown butter cupcakes with bourbon buttercream.

If I had a pound of bacon during the snowstorm, I would have friend it up and plopped a giant piece on top of each of these.  But as it were, I didn’t.  Next time.

To make brown butter cupcakes with bourbon buttercream, you will need:

For the cupcakes:

1 3/4 C cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 C milk, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C + 2 T sugar
2 eggs, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350. Generously butter and flour two 8-inch cake pans. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, melt one stick (1/2 cup or 113 grams) of butter, stirring constantly until it begins to foam. Continue to cook and stir until the foam subsides and milk solids begin to form on the bottom of the pan. Keep a close eye on the pan and turn down the heat if things start to get too toasty. When the butter has deepened in color and smells wonderfully nutty, turn off the heat and pour the butter into a small freezer-safe bowl. You should have about 1/3 cup or 90 grams of brown butter. Freeze for about 15 minutes or until the edges of the butter start to solidify. I set a timer so I wouldn’t forget about it hanging out in the freezer! Also just in case – a visual tutorial on how to brown butter.

While the butter is chilling, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a liquid measuring cup stir together milk, vanilla extract and the vanilla seeds. Set both aside.

Beat the remaining stick of butter in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the chilled brown butter, being sure to scrape the bowl so all the toasty bits of flavor that tend to settle to the bottom are included, and beat until incorporated. Add sugar and beat until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients and the vanilla/milk mixture in three alternating additions, scraping down the sides and the bottom of the bowl as necessary. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and carefully but firmly tap each pan on your counter top. This makes sure that there are as few air bubbles as possible as the cake bakes.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When your cake is fully cooled, frost with one batch of bourbon buttercream (recipe below).

For the bourbon buttercream:

1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 C powdered sugar
1 T bourbon
1/4 tsp. salt
splash of vanilla

Beat butter in a large bowl until light and creamy, about two minutes. Add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the bourbon, vanilla and salt and beat until smooth and spreadable, or about one minute more.