Monday, September 30, 2013

Week 11 Cupcakes - Breaking Bad

J has been obsessed with AMC's Breaking Bad the last few weeks.  He managed to get through the 5 seasons on Netflix and then catch up to the finale last night.  His intense Breaking Bad schedule has been making him a bit paranoid as he's been watching 3 to 4 hours of it a night but it has been good to see him really enjoy something.  So while playing around on Pinterest the other day I came across these cupcakes:
The idea of blue meth decorated cupcakes just seemed to funny to pass up plus appropriate since the finale was last night.  Then I came across a bottle of blue sugar crystals at a craft store Friday and I just couldn't resist.  However, the recipe was for a lemon cake and I'm just not feeling lemon-y right now.  So local blogger/cookbook author Christie Jordan of Southern Plate to the rescue with her Chocolate Velvet cake recipe from her first cookbook.
So these turned into chocolate cupcakes with chocolate chips and a cream cheese frosting.  Topped with Walt's signature blue crystals of course.

1. Source: A mix of Raining Hot Coupons for the inspiration and Southern Plate for the cake recipe I ended up using.

2. Ease of Recipe (1 being cake mix/canned icing - 5 tons of steps and very time consuming):  2.  This is a cake mix based cake recipe and the frosting went together very easily.

3. Changes Made:  I changed the cake recipe into a cupcake recipe by scooping them into cupcake liners and changing the bake time to 18 minutes.  They came out perfectly.

4. Problems:  None

5.  Overall Impression:  This cake worked really great turned into cupcakes.  Nice and chocolatey and the frosting was perfect.  Tangy and sweet without being over the top on either.

6. Quantity:  16

7. Make Again?:  I will definitely make the cupcakes again but I probably won't do the crystals again.  They're fun to look at but a little difficult to eat.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Birchbox - September

This is my 3rd box from Birchbox and definitely my favorite.  I've adjusted my preferences after the last 2 boxes but I think I'm going to leave them alone for awhile.  Each box has had at least one product that I really enjoyed and really worked for me.  In this box pretty much all of them did.  I got this and my Ipsy Glambag on the same day so it was a very exciting mail day!

Ruffian Nail Lacquer in Fox Hunt
I got the full sized Ruffian polish in Fox Hunt which is thankfully a really pretty orange-coral color.  Very wearable and very pretty.  The formula reminded me of Essie - one coat went on smoothly with good coverage but for just a little extra umph I went with 2 coats.  The polish lasted about the same length that my OPI and Essie polishes normally last.  The bottle is cute and the handle does make it a little easier to use though not so much that I would pay the extra $2 over an Essie polish.

amika Obliphica Perk Up Dry Shampoo
This came in a travel size can.  It's a really decent size - much more than 1 or 2 uses.  I haven't tried this one out yet because I really don't use dry shampoo very often.

Le Couvent des Minimes Gardener's Hand Healer
This is a great hand cream.  It's moisturizing with a light lemon/herby scent.  The fragrance isn't so heavy that it's overwhelming any time I bring my hands towards my face and it doesn't leave my hands feeling coated like most hand creams do.  This came in a nice sized travel tube.

Grand Central Beauty S.M.A.R.T. Skin Perfecting Polisher
This is the only product that I've tried that I wasn't absolutely in love with.  It's fine but nothing particularly exciting or amazing.  It's more of a cleanser than a serum and while it works fine it doesn't provide particularly amazing results.  I think I'll stick with my regular Neutrogena cleanser and put this little bottle away for travel.

BCBGMAXAZRIA Bon Genre Perfume
This came in a larger size glass perfume sample tube with a little sprayer on top.  It's supposed to be a mix of edgy and girly.  I really like this perfume and will most likely get this in full size at some point.  It's a pretty scent but has a touch of warm spice that keeps it from being too sweet.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Week 10 Cupcakes - Homemade Funfetti

Funfetti Cupcakes are one of J's favorite types of cupcakes so I thought what would be better than doing it from scratch?  Plus, since I can't decorate I'm a sucker for seasonal sprinkles and the Tornado is OBSESSED with Halloween right now.  So I figured this would be perfect.

1. Source: 52 Kitchen Adventures Blog - I've followed this blog for awhile but I'm not sure how much I've really cooked from it.  I'll have to pay attention in the future.
2. Ease of Recipe (1 being cake mix/canned icing - 5 tons of steps and very time consuming): 2 - just a plain cake and a simple buttercream

3. Changes Made: I had run out of cream for the frosting so I used a half quantity of milk instead.

4. Problems:  No problems, this is a pretty straight forward recipe with simple clear instructions.

5.  Overall Impression:  One thing that had escaped my notice until I was actually in the process of baking was this called for 2 teaspoons of lemon zest.  While the flavor was a pleasant lemon-y cake it really wasn't what I was looking for in these particular cupcakes.  The frosting was a bit sweet so I would probably use a little less sugar next time.  The cake texture is nice and light without being dry and the frosting holds it shape well.  They look really cute with Halloween sprinkles on top and mixed in but once again the lemon flavor really wasn't what I was going for.

6. Quantity:  20

7. Make Again?:  Probably not but I will definitely spend more time looking at the other recipes on the blog.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ipsy Glambag - September

This was my very first Ipsy Glambag and I'm thrilled with it!  It comes in a bright pink bubble wrap envelope and inside that is a makeup bag filled with your specific samples.  The price is the same as Birchbox and the number of products seems to be about the same.  Ipsy seems to be a bit more focused on just makeup and a bit edgier.  You take a more detailed quiz and are matched with stylists. The website is a little harder to figure out as is their point system.  To be fair, I've messed with it maybe 2 minutes since signing up and haven't read any of the help sections.

The theme for September is Classic Beauty.

My makeup bag is a pretty sapphire blue with a black vaguely floral pattern.  The bag contained:

Freeman Face Brightening Paper Mask (foil packet) - this is completely bizarre.  It's more of a plastic garbage bag texture than paper and didn't really seal to my skin very well.  Apparently the visual for those around you is very reminiscent of Jason in the Friday the 13th movies.  Emma was downstairs when I put this on and she's a bit traumatized by the whole thing.  The experience was not exactly relaxing or spa-like.  The mask was way to big for my face and I had to look up at the ceiling to keep the liquidy stuff inside from dripping all over me and to keep the mask from sliding over my eyes.  Apparantly Freeman thinks I have a very small face because this didn't fit me at all.  To keep the eyeholes actually over my eyes the strip that's supposed to go between your nose and mouth actually covered my mouth.  The end of the chin was about 1/3 of the way down my neck.  I think a clay mask would be way easier and probably less frightening!  As for the results - it didn't break me out or irritate my skin at all but I can't say I saw astounding results.

Freeman Facial Hydrating Paper Mask and Freeman Facial Purifying Paper Mask - I haven't tried these yet but I'm going to assume there will be a similar experience to the one above.

Elizabeth Mott It's So Big Volumizing Mascara- This is a really nice mascara.  It provides good definition without getting clumpy.  I like mascaras that have a little more drama than just a natural look and this does a good job of it.  It came in a good sized travel tube and came at a great time as the mascara I had just started turned out to be awful.

Cailyn Tinted Lip Balm in Big Apple - This was a full sized product and at $19 its value alone is more than double the cost of the entire bag.  My only problem with this product is the name.  This is more of a lip stain than a lip balm but it is not drying at all.  It goes on very precisely with the included brush and its matte finish doesn't make me feel like my face is all mouth.  The staying power is very good though it didn't stay perfectly through a meal.  However, when it faded it faded evenly so I didn't get the no lipstick in the center/hard lipstick line on the edges look which happens frequently.  The color was a really pretty red that works pretty nicely with my skin.  If I was going to buy one product from the bag this would be the product hands down.  It comes in a ton of colors and I wouldn't mind trying a few more of them.

NYX eyeshadow in Charcoal - This was a full size!  While the brand isn't very expensive it is one that crops up all the time on Makeup Dupe lists so I was excited to try it.  In the package it was a dark silvery - grey and I was hestitant to try it for daytime since it looked like such a smokey eye color.  When I finally did though I was very pleasantly surprised. The texture is nice and silky and the color is pigmented enough to be visible but sheer enough that it doesn't look overdone for day.  The staying power isn't super great.  I found it about on par with other drugstore eye shawows but that's easily fixable with a little e.l.f. lock and seal.

Starlooks Kohl Eye Pencil in Obsidian - If this wasn't full size it was awfully close.  This is the kind of pencil you have to sharpen yourself which I normally avoid because I'm lazy.  I've had mixed results with kohl pencils.  Sometimes it works great, other times it smudges to much, has very little staying powder and the point won't hold its shape.  This Starlooks Pencil was one of the good ones.  It went on very smoothly without making a mess.  The staying power is pretty good. It looks the same as it did when I applied after a pretty busy day.

I was thrilled with Ipsy this month and am really looking forward to next month.  It does feel a little younger than Birchbox and the reviews on the website definitely speak to that feeling but that's pretty easily avoided.  For $10 a month this seems like a great deal!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Week 9 Cupcakes - Ultimate Chocolate Plus a Little Thrifting

I did a little thrifting yesterday and had one of the best hauls I've had in awhile.  Everything I tried on after I got home I was in love with!  Such fun!  I got the pair of white jeans that I've been searching for forever and only paid $2 for them.  I also go 2 Talbot shirts - one a brown sweater with elbow sleeves and shiney buttons at the cuff and the other a light purple long sleeve shirt with these pretty little tucks at the collar.  I also got a 3 button 3/4 length brown t-shirt from Gap that fits beautifully, a blue v neck sweater, a dark brown corduroy blazer that's missing its button but that should be easily fixable and a pair of jeans for Emma that are probably miles too long but for $.73 we'll make them work.  So for $15.00 I got 4 shirts, 2 pairs of jeans and 1 jacket.  Then I found the white blazer at H&M that I've been wanting forever was on sale for $20 instead of the $39.95 that it's been.  At Target I found a pair of cute boyfriend white pants on the 70% off rack.  Yesterday was a fantastic day only tempered a little bit by the discovery that when Ringo washes dishes he was under the impression that you only need soap if the food sticks to a particular dish.  I've been trying to avoid thinking about how close we've been to food poisoning as he's rinsed off knives that I've cut meat with and just stuck them back in the block.

Luckily I had these Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes to keep my mind off of that.  After 3 weeks of cupcakes that I've been disappointed in these are fabulous!

1. Source:  Brown Eyed Baker - this is a pretty tried and true blog for me.  Pretty much everything I've tried has come out amazing.

2. Ease of Recipe (1 being cake mix/canned icing - 5 tons of steps and very time consuming): 3.5.  The cake was from scratch but pretty simple, the ganache involved microwaving and stirring but the frosting did take a little work and the hand mixer.

3. Changes Made:  I used Hershey's Special Dark cocoa vs just regular cocoa.  Also, I used my hand mixer instead of the food processor for the frosting.

4. Problems:  The cake wasn't my absolute favorite.  It was a little dry but its possible I overbaked it a minute or 2

5.  Overall Impression:  These are seriously crazy good and seriously crazy chocolate-y.  This is a dark chocolate cupcake topped a layer of dark chocolate ganache that is then topped with a layer of dark chocolate buttercream.  It's like chocolate overload in the best possible way.

6. Quantity:  12

7. Make Again?:  Yes!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chef of the Month - September

This month's chef is Bobby Flay.  I've been using 4 cookbooks of his: Bobby Flay's Burgers, Fries and ShakesBold American FoodMesa Grill Cookbook, and Bar Americain Cookbook.  While I love Bobby's food it's not something I turn to everyday.  He uses a lot of beef and the recipes tend to be a little time consuming.  Well except for the hamburgers.  We will be eating a lot of hamburgers this month, at least once a week.  No one is particularly upset about that.  So 1/3 of the way into the month of September this is what I've made so far:

Double Baked Horseradish Potatoes - I adore horseradish and will eat it on most anything.  If I'm at a restaurant and there is an item with a horseradish sauce that's most likely what I'll end up getting.  These were really good and not any more difficult than the usual twice baked potato.  The extra little twist of horseradish makes it stand out.

Crunchburger (aka the Signature Burger) - Bobby knows his way around a hamburger. This was one of the best hamburgers I've ever had.  The potato chips with the burger, cheese and horseradish mayo mustard(there's that horseradish again!) were a delicious combination.  I used a skillet on the stove (oddly enough a Bobby Flay skillet I bought a few months ago) and they came out amazing.

Black Pepper Biscuits - this is basically a regular buttermilk biscuit with black pepper on the top.  These were good but I didn't love them.  The biscuit recipe is okay but not better than my usual go-tos.

Chipotle Brioche - This bread was a little heartbreaking. The flavor is amazing - rich, buttery with a serious spicy kick.  However, I had made it to use to make grilled cheese sandwiches and it just didn't work out.  The bread wouldn't cut into slices without crumbling or breaking.  At first I thought maybe it was too hot but when I tried to slice it the next day it still wouldn't hold its shape.  This was very sad because the bread is very good and somewhat difficult.  This would work as bread with dinner but it does not hold its own as a sandwich.

In the next few weeks I'm planning various hamburgers, a deconstructed Cordon Bleu  and maybe a soup or two.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

August Favorites

August has been a big month in our house.  Eleanor moved about an hour away to start college and the Tornado started a 2 day/week preschool.  The other 2 went back to school to but its the same place so less changes for them other than they're both loaded up with AP classes.  All transitions have gone stunningly well and I am really beginning to enjoy the 7 hours a week I have to myself.  The weather has been crazy too.  I went to Ringo's first game in a sweater and jacket but went to the park the next week in a tshirt and shorts and was still hot.  So my favorites for this crazy month are:

Favorite Pin:
Margherita Chicken from Taste and Tell

So good reasonably quick and easy.  Plus it looked beautiful on a plate.  Definitely company-worthy.  Another plus is that I used tomatoes and basil out of my garden.  Served it with an herbed pasta but next time I think I'm going to make it with mashed potatoes.  This is definitely going on the make again list and will probably make a reappearance next week.

2nd Place
It's a tie between these Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from the Recipe Critic which were astonishingly good and easy

and these Homemade Hostess Cupcakes from the Brown Eyed Baker.  These were delicious and fun to make.  The bitterness of the chocolate balanced out the sweetness of the marshmallow filling.  Definitely in the top 10 of best cupcakes I've made.

Favorite Beauty Product:
e.l.f. Studio Makeup Lock and Seal.  I picked this up for a whopping $3 at Target on a whim and have been so impressed with it.  The box comes with a small brush, a tiny plastic cup and a bottle that looks like eye drops.  You put maybe two drops in the cup and lightly brush it on after you've put your makeup on.  This stuff WORKS.  I can rub my eyes hours after I put my eye shadow on and it still stays put.  It's mildly tacky immediately after brushing on and if you use to much of the fluid it will dilute the eye shadow but once I got the hang of it this has been a miracle product.  I can use this with drug store eye shadows to have them last as well if not better than high end shadows.

Binge Watching:

I remember when this was on but never really watched it even though I love detective shows.  I thought it was a bit too gimmicky when Monk's phobias and it just never really grabbed me.  However, thanks to Netflix I'm almost done with season 4 (we won't even say how long it took me to get there.  Not nearly as long as it should've) and I've been loving it.  They've done a wonderful job with the character development across the board and you feel attached to them without it being too much about their personal life.
TLC's Who Do You Think You Are? which traces family trees of celebrities.  LOVE this show.  There's one more this season and I'll be very sad to see it go.
TLC's What Not to Wear I watched this ages ago when it was first on but got kind of bored with it.  Since this is its last season I've been catching up on some reruns and watching the new ones and thoroughly enjoying them.
CBS's Unforgettable I loved this show when it was on last year and was so disappointed when they cancelled it.  I was really happy when they revived it for a summer season and for once I think the changes they made to improve ratings actually improved the show.  I'm hoping CBS keeps it on as a summer season show or at sells it to TNT or one of the other cable networks that I read were interested.

Favorite Thrift Store Purchase:
I've had a pretty good month even though I had a huge break in between shopping trips.  The 2 favorites that come immediately to mind are the tweed Jones New York Country Essentials blazer I picked up for less than $2 or the Ann Taylor Loft t-shirt with a sketch of 2 Audrey Hepburn type girls complete with frilly tutu and some sequins.  I think that may have been an expensive $4.  I'm also loving a pair of $2 green J.Crew shorts.  They're super casual but I think will be great  for playgrounds and garden working.

For September I'm hoping to get more crafts in and maybe some outfit photos.  Maybe I'll have actually joined this century with a smart phone by this point.

Week 8 Cupcakes - Twix Bars

I have a handful of go-to candy bars.  Snickers if I'm really hungry or not feeling well.  I'm completely convinced that Snickers are good for you.  They show athletes on the commercials so therefore health food.  Reeses cups are another top pick but only if they're the holiday ones.  I can eat Reese's pumpkins, eggs or Christmas trees until I'm ill and not regret it.  But my all time favorite candy bar is the Twix bar.  I like to separate the ingredients (though now that I'm technically a grown up I don't do that in public anymore) and eat the chocolate caramel part and then the cookie part.  So I was thrilled thrilled when I saw these cupcakes made with a shortbread cookie base, chocolate cake and caramel filling and butter cream.

1. Source:  A blog called Cannella Vita - a completely new to me blog.  The pictures and instructions were very good and clear.
2. Ease of Recipe (1 being cake mix/canned icing - 5 tons of steps and very time consuming): 3

3. Changes Made: Less sugar in the frosting then called for.  With half the amount of sugar it was already bordering on too sweet.  I have a feeling the full 4 cups would have made my teeth voluntarily leave my mouth.  I also used the individually wrapped caramels vs a homemade caramel candy.

4. Problems:  Because I didn't put the full amount of sugar the frosting was runny.  J said they looked like gravy cupcakes.  Also, the caramels didn't stay gooey after melting them. Both problems were caused by my changes so I would use a higher quality or homemade caramel candy next time and play with the proportions of the frosting to get a better texture without it being too sweet.

5.  Overall Impression:  Unfortunately I was disappointed with these.  The cookie went soggy instead of giving it a crunch and the caramel just wasn't melt-y stringy caramel.  The overall flavor combination was good and Twix bar like but the it just wasn't as good as I expected.

6. Quantity:  18 

7. Make Again?: No.