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A hub for all things to do with design, furniture painting, photography, style, event planning [and some foodie bits for good measure].  

Constant Christmas Baking! The Best Tiny Vanilla Cupcakes

These cupcakes though. [don't worry, they're gone now. we. ate. them. all.]  I had an impromptu Christmas party last week and rushed to prepare things for the party solely based on what I already had around the house.  I knew tiny cupcakes were in my near future, since we'd just picked up a load of tiny cupcake liners in various holiday colors. After a bit of research, I stumbled upon this FANTASTIC recipe!

Rather than rewrite the entire recipe on here, I'll send you to Sally's Baking Addiction for it.  The only thing I changed was the substitution of vanilla greek yogurt.  I didn't have any on hand, so I opted to use some low fat sour cream and extra vanilla extract in the mix.  Worked just fine!

The cupcakes themselves are quite light and don't feel too terribly sinful, but that buttercream frosting....OH YES. I added a pinch of extra salt, since I like how it mellows the overly saccharine sweetness of the frosting.

I also opted to top half of them with chocolate frosting [simply added some spoonfuls of unsweetened cocoa powder to half the frosting].  Decorating them was simple enough; mixtures of green, red and silver sprinkles is all they needed!

I didn't have time to take 'fancy' photos of them, since I was running around like a chicken with her head cut off that day getting ready for the party, but these seem to show their delectability quite nicely.

Just for good measure, I had to include a photo of the aftermath. [this photo makes an appearance twice in the blog, since I'm just so proud of this mess!] I LOVE to cook, and I don't mind baking, but boy do I loathe how messy the entire process can be! You'd almost think I actively tried to create chaos for this photo, but no no...this is just what things look like when I bake.  As I write this, I just finished tidying up the kitchen from the second round of Christmas baking, this time for the BIG day! Tomorrow, I'll hopefully post my gorgeous sugar cookies [and a batch of cinnamon walnut squares!] all decked out and glossy. But for now, I shall drink my glass of wine and revel in the fact that I can watch at least one more episode of Broadchurch before going to bed.  [I have an unhealthy relationship with Netflix...]  

Last Minute Christmas Party!

The writing for this post will be brief, as I'm currently in the throes of attempting to throw together a VERY last minute Christmas Party! My kitchen currently looks something like this:

But not to worry, tasty things are coming from this chaos. I have a toothache just thinking about it! These cupcakes with buttercream frosting are the central culprit to the tornado in my kitchen:

While I was at it, I went for two other desserts, because I can't be stopped once I've made a massive catastrophe of my kitchen! [photos of those to come later!]  In the meantime, here's what the studio looks like for the party now.  I didn't have much time to really get into festive decorating here since we went all out at the house, but it's still quite nice if I do say so myself!

Now that I've completed my share of the cooking and baking [my sweet mother is helping cook up several Filipino dishes for the party while I get ready!], it's time to tidy up [massive understatement...] and sort myself out for this evening.  I'll return to the regularly scheduled posts hopefully by tomorrow!  Gotta love Christmas!

Italian Pantry Staples: Bucatini with Arrabiata Sauce

I'm always one to choose cooking a meal from scratch over taking shortcuts, but there are days when I get carried away with painting and work and life. Dinnertime sneaks up on me and I’ve got nothing in the fridge…what do I do?! Head to my pantry, naturally.

I have to confess, I’m not the best at keeping a well stocked pantry.  I’m seriously overdue for a pantry packing grocery trip.  I customized and repainted the pantry [and I LOVE it!], but now I’ve got so much room for all the fixings for last minute meals.  There’s much potential, but it’s often left fairly sparse. I’ll update you as I rework my pantry, but in the meantime, I thought I’d share my favorite Italian dish made in minutes, and all with ingredients you could have on hand in a pinch.

If I’m wanting to create a beautiful, simple meal in under half an hour, all I really need are three things: good sauce, good pasta and good wine.  When it comes to sauce, I can actually throw together a fantastic marinara in minutes, but when I’m in a real rush, popping open a jar, warming it up and stirring in pasta doesn’t any easier.  

My mom was nice enough to stop by our local Italian Market [if you live in Atlanta, do check out Toscano & Sons in Virginia Highland]. She picked up a box of bucatini [one of my favorite pastas that can be tough to find at any old grocery], a jar of arrabiata sauce and a bottle of Chianti. All three items [though I prefer to keep Cabernet Sauvignon on hand since it’s my jam] are must have pantry items.

Our dinner was impeccable, and it only took 20 minutes to prepare [most of that time was just waiting for the water to boil!].  I had shrimp in the freezer, which were a cinch to defrost and cook in olive oil for a minute or two per side. To that pan, I just add the jar of pasta sauce, and all that’s left to do is toss the bucatini in.

If you’re wanting to beef up this meal, you could easily add in a couple handfuls of spinach, some sliced bell pepper. If you’re not a shrimp eater, grilled chicken works well or chick peas [a personal favorite of mine!]. 

Holiday Entertaining Recipes: Egg Free Egg Nog

Tis the season of holiday parties! The standard party fare are easily the best part of the season [well after spending quality time with friends and family, and the occasional dancing and singing to cheesy Christmas songs!]. I love to see trays and trays of sweets and cookies of every shape and flavor. Even better are the warm drinks flavored with all sorts of wintery spices: warm cider, mulled wine and my personal favorite, hot chocolate! Egg nog is the most tried and true holiday decadence, though it’s surprisingly not my most favorite drink. Why in the world then would I spend an entire post on a recipe for egg nog you ask? Well let me explain…

My reasons for veering away from the nog is mostly due to my past aversion to raw eggs. True eggnog is actually made with raw eggs, and is extremely thick and rich. When at a party, you never really know if you’re getting a nog that’s been heated and all the potential food born illnesses have hopefully been cooked off. As someone who's had food poisioning, this is a valid concern!

To be fair, I’m much less picky about raw eggs these days, since I’ve cooked enough recipes using them and have been perfectly healthy after the fact. Regardless, my long standing pickiness regarding eggnog has made me opt to create an egg free holiday treat. I’d planned on calling this a different name [though any ideas for fun recipe names are completely escaping me!], but it impressively tastes A LOT like your standard eggnog, just a little less thick. If you add in a good dose of heavy cream to the mix, you could make this far more decadent, but I’m quite happy with it the way it is!

Egg Free Egg Nog

  • 12 cups whole milk
  • 8-12 ounces bourbon [I used Jack Daniel’s Cider Whiskey since it tastes very seasonal!] Add as much or as little liquor as you’d like- this tastes great alcohol free too!
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cinnamon stick [plus more for stirrers]
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger [I didn’t have this so I used a ginger simple syrup I had on hand and it adds just the right amount of warmth!]
  • 2 tablespoons sweetened cocoa powder [I used Ovaltine since I had that on hand]
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar

Combine all the ingredients aside from the liquor in a pot and warm on medium heat until the sugar dissolves. The longer it simmers, the stronger the spices taste.  I typically let it simmer for 15-20 minutes, but this time I only went for 10 and it tasted great! Place in a blender and blend until the spices are well incorporated.  [some will settle at the bottom of your pitcher, so just give it a stir before serving.  Add enough bourbon to your liking and stir to combine.  Eggnog is traditionally served cold, but as I’m drinking this, it’s still warm and I’m loving it! It’s chilly out today, so while I’m out in the yard with the dogs, it’s nice to have a warm [if slightly boozy] drink to sip on.  Mmm…

Citrus, Almond and Thyme Olive Oil Cake with a Cranberry Drizzle

It’s over a week later and I’m just getting around to sharing this delightful little recipe! For Thanksgiving, I almost always try and create two desserts. One is always my apple pie, of course. Occasionally, the pie doesn’t turn out the way I’d like [too sweet, too tart, crumbling crust, etc.], so it helps to have a backup dessert.  The pie turned out scrumptious this year, so this lovely cake was forgotten until the following day [and is still being devoured a week later!].

I’m fairly certain I’ve never made an olive oil cake before, though I have tasted my fair share of them.  One of my favorite local spots, La Tavola, does a fantastic olive oil cake. If I remember correctly [it’s been a while since I’ve ordered it], they typically serve it with some sort fruit reduction, so I thought I’d do the same.

I have a seriously massive amount of cranberry sauce leftover [accidentally made twice as much as I normally do, whoops!], so I’m using excuse to plate up this gorgeous glossy crimson sauce. Lucky for me, the combination of tart cranberries with this sweet citrus cake works seamlessly.

Normally I don’t serve my desserts on rough hewn wooden boards like this, but I just may need to make this a standard serving option. It photographs beautifully this way! Atop the wood board, I styled the cake with a cutting of ruby coleus for a bit of color and a few sprigs of thyme.

Citrus, Almond and Thyme Olive Oil Cake

  • 1 blood orange, zested and juiced [if you can’t find blood oranges, half a regular orange will do!]
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1.25 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup sliced or slivered almonds
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease 2 8 or 9” tart baking dish [I only had one, so I opted to make several smaller cakes alongside my one larger] Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange and lemon zest. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk and citrus juices. In a bowl [the one that attaches to your mixer, or if you’re using a handheld mixer, then any large bowl will do], beat the sugar and eggs on high until light and creamy, 4-5 minutes. Lower the speed and drizzle in the olive oil slowly until fully incorporated. Add half the dry mixture to the eggs, mix to combine on low. Then add the buttermilk mixture just to combine. Finally, add the rest of the flour mixture until just combined. With a spatula, fold in the almonds. Add the batter to your prepared pans [I prefer this cake to bake the thin side, so I only fill my baking dish about halfway, but if you’d prefer a thicker cut of cake, go ahead and pour it 2/3 full. Bake for 40-45 minutes [if using smaller pans, be sure to check on them frequently since the time will adjust for smaller dishes] until golden brown.  Allow to cool on a rack.

Optional: Lemon Glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested

Whisk together everything until smooth and drizzle on the cake until completely covered. Gives the cake a bit more moisture, sweetness and a lemony kick.

Cranberry Drizzle

This isn’t so much a recipe, more of a hack on the cranberry sauce you may already have lying around.  I simply took my cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving, added a bit of water to it and blended it in my Vitamix until it was smooth.  The recipe I used this year was Tyler Florence’s Cranberry-Orange Sauce, but this should work with really any recipe!

Make this for your next holiday party [or a dinner any night of the week]. It's divine! Happy Friday! -Jo