Monday, August 29, 2011

Sweet Escapes - Fun Finds for the Kiddies

Hello all!

As I sit here stranded in my college apartment from extreme flooding courtesy of Hurricane Irene, I reminisce on how, when I was little, I entertained myself with so many things that did not require electricity. I was lucky enough not to lose power during this, but family and friends of mine did and I could only think "what would I do with myself if I couldn't get on Pinterest or browse my favorite blogs?"

How sad is that?

But if I was a kid, well I could be roaming through a jungle or playing "the floor is lava" and jumping from couch to couch or pretending to be a famous chef in my play kitchen; which got me thinking... this week's sweet escape could be about play food!

And where else to look for the neatest and cutest in fake food but - Etsy!

Felt Play Food (well for me anyway) is a relatively new phenomenon that I think is a fantastic idea. No bad chemicals from the plastic, and they are soft so even little toddlers can play with them. Customization is a fabulous perk as well, and the DIY patterns make the toys fun as a craft to do with your tykes as well.

Felt Cookbook and Bakery DIY Pattern Set - $3.99 Sweetie Pie Bakery

Here's a DIY that would be so entertaining on a rainy day with your little wannabe baker. For $3.99 you receive an e-book pdf full of patterns to create these adorable little bakery items and recipes to fill the cookbook pattern. It lists supplies needed as well as patterns for a felt cookbook, flour/sugar canisters, measuring cups and sweets like pie, brownies, cinnamon rolls and macaroons! 

Fun to make, and fun for hours of playtime after. These are the kind of projects that make me want to be a mom so I can do this with my own little kid....well, almost. Maybe not quite yet but you get the idea.

Assorted Felt Eco-Friendly Foods - $8 - $16 BugBitesPlayFood

These are a bit pricier than I would like to spend, but the seller states everything is made from eco-friendly, post-consumer products and are even machine washable. Not bad for a child's play toy (definitely could not machine wash plastic). 

I LOVE this one - pre assembled so no sewing required, but left in pieces for the child to put together themselves and create their own little apple pie! Precious.

Felt Sweets - Pre-made and DIY - Sweetemmajean $6 - $16

Again, I love the pre-made pieces (for those who who perhaps do not like the idea of sewing parts of toys) but the ability to assemble and customize left to the kiddie. These ice cream treats are perfect for summer or if your little boy or girl is just in the mood for faux frozen treats! Plus Black and White Cookies are just plain adorable. 

So next time you are looking for a fun arts&crafts idea to do with your child, think of creating your own toys! If your child is a bit older and with your supervision, you could even use this as a way to teach her how to sew. I know I loved embroidery at a young age, and arts and crafts can keep kids occupied for hours. 

This has been this week's Sweet Escape; keep an eye out for more fun foodie finds next Monday!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Red Velvet Brownies

Ah, what a relief to be all moved in! Now I finally get to share with you the last sweet I whipped up before leaving for college.....

Red Velvet Brownies!

Yes, I know what you're thinking 'I didn't know Red Velvet Brownies even existed...' and neither did I. Until Now.

May I say, that if anyone reading this stumbled upon this post in search of a red velvet cake recipe, look no further. I know these are brownies but trust me, these have all the red velvet flavor and texture without the work of cake. Oh, and did I mention no need for certain ingredients that are not always on hand in everyone's kitchen? (I'm looking at you buttermilk and vinegar.)

1. I found the idea of making a paste with red food coloring, cocoa powder and vanilla extract a really intriguing way to make sure the flavor and color were evenly distributed in the batter. She did call for 2 oz of food coloring and I only had about 1 1/2, but it seemed to work just as well. Plus, food coloring is so expensive, if you can use less, spend less, and achieve the same effect, why not?

2. Creaming butter and sugar with eggs and vanilla is quick and easy; then you add your "red velvet" paste and some flour and...

Voila! Red Velvet Brownie Batter. Just scrape into any square-ish greased pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, and you will be in red velvet heaven.

This is a fabulous recipe for anyone interested in red velvet cake but perhaps does not need an entire cake of it sitting around in the house, only to end up being eaten late at night by the baker herself on a hunt for a sweet bite to eat. You can cut these brownies as little (or as huge) as you'd like, and the cream cheese frosting drizzle is delicious without being overly heavy or overpowering.

I found this recipe by SmellsLikeHome on FoodGawker and just knew I had to try it. Though I did take some liberties in the frosting. White chocolate buttercream does sound amazing, but with no white-chocolate on hand I whipped up a quick cream cheese frosting to drizzle over the brownies instead. No one complained about the switch (who would though, white chocolate or cream cheese frosting - neither a bad choice!).

Hope you enjoy this new take on Red Velvet! And just a heads up, the Sweet Escape will of course still be occurring every Monday, but until I stock up my apartment pantry with baking supplies, there may be a delay in posts with recipes. I apologize and promise I will be back to baking in the kitchen in no time! 

Red Velvet Brownies with Cream Cheese Frosting Drizzle
slightly adapted from Smells Like Home

3 tbsp cocoa powder
2 oz red food coloring (I got away with about 1 1/2 oz)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, room temp.
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 8x8 or 11x7 baking pan (whichever pan you have handy)
2. In a small bowl, gently mix together the cocoa powder with 1 tsp vanilla extract and red food coloring. It should end up as a thick, smooth paste with no lumps.
3. In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 2 min). Beat in eggs, one at a time, then mix in 1 tsp vanilla. Turn mixer off and add the cocoa powder/food coloring paste to the mixture and beat on medium speed until well incorporated.
4. Slowly add in flour and beat until just combined and no clumps remain.
5. Spread batter into prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack before icing or slicing :)

Cream Cheese Frosting 

2 oz cream cheese, room temp.
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 2/3 cup powdered sugar
splash of milk (as needed)

1. Cream together cream cheese and butter. Add vanilla.
2. Slowly add powdered sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add splash of milk if needed to adjust consistency.
3. Scrape frosting into Ziploc bag and snip off small corner. Pipe/drizzle frosting over cooled brownies.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sweet Escapes - DIY Cake/Cupcake Stand Projects

Hello old friends!

I say old since it has been over a week since my last post, but I have been moving myself into my new off-campus college apartment (Woo!). So this will have to be a short post as well, since there is still so much to do. But I couldn't leave you without your Weekly Sweet Escape. A bit more to the point than usual, but here is a little collection of DIY Projects I have found about making your own designer cake/cupcake stands. Each project is super cost-effective, and results in a fabulous stand that is both functional and fashionable. I know, more alliteration. I'm sorry I'm sorry I am working on it ;) 

1. CensationalGirl

2. Decorganize Crafts (this was the most intriguing - using stove top burners!)

4. Shelterness

As Always - hope you enjoyed this week's short, but nonetheless sweet escape. Keep an eye out for a post on Red Velvet Brownies later this week! :D

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sweet Escapes - Soapopotamus

Hello all!

So for this week's Sweet Escape, we will journey to my absolute favorite online marketplace - Etsy.

Now for those of you who are not familiar with it, Etsy is home to a ton of little internet "storefronts" for anything and everything handmade. I actually found out about Etsy when my boyfriend and I ran a little handmade clothing company out of his garage in high school. As you can imagine, we were thrifty entrepreneurs, and so we discovered Etsy because of its economical advantages. It's a great place for a start up if you're low on funds, or if you are looking for a market of buyers who love handmade items. The way Etsy works is that there is no fee to register or hold a storefront, just to list an item and a small percentage of your profit on each listed item. Definitely cheaper than owning a physical storefront, it is home to a veritable pantheon of fun, irresistible, handmade goodies.

Now, let's take a look at a shop who's entire inventory is on my wishlist: Soapopotamus.

Cinnamon Roll 6 Pack - $8

Yes, these are soap. Goat's milk soap to be exact, which I have heard fantastic reviews about. I have really sensitive skin, and almost all of her soaps are goat's milk, which is supposed to be uber gentle, and uber nourishing. What better way to wake up in the morning with a nice hot shower and a cinnamon bun?!

Carrot Cake Bar - $5.50

I am seriously stumped as to how she made the cake look so realistic. I'm always on the hunt for nice Fall scents (if I could I'd live in perpetual autumn) so I would love this to go with the cozy feeling of the chilly season.

Blueberry Muffin - $5.50

Not only is this the size of an actual muffin - she even made little blueberry soaps and suspended them throughout. So neat - and really shows dedication in my opinion on the part of the seller. Bravo.

Half Dozen Glazed Mini Donuts - $8

These little soaps are listed under her "Mini Food Guest Soap" section, and seriously, I would LOVE to be able to give a friend one of these to use while she stayed over. Just picture your friend's face when you pull out this little donut and go "and here's your soap!" Shocked and awed, I'm sure. And I would be perfectly content with smelling like a donut. (Maybe you think that's strange, and that's fine. No judgment. But I'm telling you, there are worse things to smell like than a glazed donut my friend.)

Rice Krispie Treat 4 Pack - $5

I saved the best for last. No joke - you have now just witnessed a rice krispie treat in soap form. You didn't think such an item existed did you? Well, now you can go and buy these and impress (or concern) your friends with your love for sweets. My roommates have already seen my fake food jewelry collection, so this probably wouldn't phase them much. Though, this would be in the shower, which might be a bit disconcerting. Or funny. Your pick. :D

Soapopatmus has plenty more where these came from. So if your prefer, oh, I don't know, chocolate cake, toast, or strawberry cupcakes, please make sure to check her out. I can't buy handmade all the time, but I like to do so when I can because you get your money's worth and your supporting small business; which, in my opinion, is always good. 

I hope you enjoyed this week's Sweet Escape! Be sure to check back next Monday for a look at more handmade treats for sweets - DIY Cakestand Designs.

Disclaimer: all photos featured are from the Soapopatmus Shop. Please link her and cite her shop appropriately if using these photos!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Search of the Perfect Sugar Cookie

Hello again!

The weather has been so stormy lately, and being stuck inside the house means endless amounts of time to peruse Pinterest and find more recipes to bookmark. As I am scrolling through endless amounts of pins, wondering what to do with myself on such a rainy day, I see this post for "Thick, Soft Sugar Cookies". Intrigued are you? I was. So with the rain coming down in buckets, I resist the urge to just sleep/lounge all day and head to my kitchen.

Do you have one of those treats that just reminds you of the first time you baked with your mom or on your own? For me, it's sugar cookies. From those little ones with the printed image in the center that you slice and bake, to cut-out Christmas cookies, sugar cookies have always been my favorite. So I have quite the high expectations when it comes to finding recipes online. I want a cookie that is a) soft b) chewy and c) only slightly vanilla flavored. Sugar cookies shouldn't be vanilla cookies, they should be, well, sugar - flavored. You all know what I mean, right?

Right. So I find this recipe that appears to be a good match to what I'm searching for. Pretty straightforward recipe, though I was surprised to see sour cream as an ingredient. But I decided to have some fun and I split the dough in half and make some pink cookies too. Since, well, who doesn't like pink? I also wanted perfectly round cookies, and so I channeled my inner MacGyver and used the top of the PAM spray to cut out cookies. Super easy and no need to buy a cookie cutter.

Cute? Definitely. Sugar Cookie? Yes. But, my friends, it was not to be. The quest for the perfect sugar cookie continues.

Not that these were bad. No, actually my brother and his friends quite liked them. To me, though, they were a little bland and a little dry. In all fairness, Peppermint Plum did cover her cookies with a nice thick coating of frosting, and that probably did make them delicious and much richer. But for me, a really great sugar cookie doesn't need frosting. It's a cookie, not a cake. Maybe some rainbow sprinkles, I'll give you that, but like I said, I have really high expectations when it comes to these.

But hey, even though they weren't my favorite, it still gave me another chance to play around with the camera and try to improve my photography skills. It also kept me from sitting on my bum all day watching tv, so in the grand scheme, it actually was a pretty successful baking experience.

I've included the link to the recipe here, with some more photos as I continue to practice my food styling. As I continue to fight with lighting issues I don't quite know how to amend without professional lighting, and my own lack of creativity when it comes to setup, I remind myself - practice makes perfect (or better at least). One day though, I will have picturesque setups with my desserts on beautiful cake stands and adorable accessories and backdrops. One day.

Please feel free to leave suggestions in the comment box if you have any ideas for cute ways to set up my photos! :D I'm always up for hearing from fellow bloggers on ways to improve. Happy Baking!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Sweet Escapes - FredFlare.Com

So I must confess, before blogging about my baking adventures here on Blogger, I ran a little blog on Tumbr dedicated to "Sweet Escapes", which was pretty much anything I could find on the internet that was inspired by dessert/candy etc. I happen to have quite the obsession with food-inspired jewelry, and it was the perfect outlet to share that obsession with the world.

Until Now.

I've decided; once a week, I will post about "Sweet Escapes" I find all across the web and wherever else my obsession with sweets takes me. I just miss it too much not to do so.

And this week, to start it off, I introduce FredFlare.Com

This site is one of my absolute biggest guilty pleasures. They have the neatest array of kitschy-cute accessories for your wardrobe and your home. I haven't really been able to save up enough to splurge on all my favorites (yet) but my birthday is coming up in October's always good to plan ahead with a wishlist. :D

1. Chocolate Chip Cookie Pouch ($9)

Now tell me you wouldn't love to whip this little cutie out of your purse when you need some spare change! So adorable. Too bad it's not available yet. It's arriving soon, so be sure to add yourself to the waitlist!

2. Cupcake Floss ($9)

Cupcake-flavored floss you say? I say - must have. Tastes and smells just like a cupcake, but without the sugar-inducing cavities or the calories. This would be a perfect stocking stuffer or Secret Santa gift for the cupcake addict in your group of friends (or for yourself, no one's judging here).

3. Ice Cream Cone Lamp ($50)

Another one that's "arriving soon", this would make such a statement in your bed room (or in my case, my college apartment. Though I don't know if my less food-obsessed roomies would agree.)

4. Sweet Dreams Cupcake Pillow ($30)

Okay, so if the cupcake floss is the stocking stuffer - here's the one to stick under the tree (unwrapped) for your cupcake-lover. Seriously, who wouldn't want this pillow? The sprinkles are adorable and I am loving the realism with the paper wrapper. A little bit pricier than your average pillow; sure. But worth it? I think so.

5. Delicious Dessert Keychains ($6)

This was the first item I saw that actually made me think to blog about FredFlare and all its neat goodies. It's a blind assortment so you have no idea what you'll get (which is exciting for some, and frustrating for others) but at only $6, I might just buy 2 sets to increase my chances of getting that Samoa keychain!

And this is just the tip of the iceberg my friends. At FredFlare you can find all of these and others, including (but not limited to):

The list just goes on and on. Not into dessert? No problem. The site also is home to multitudes of other fun items, like a sushi pillow, bacon soap, and even an EtchASketch Ipad Case, just to name a few. 

This has been this week's Sweet Escape. Next week I'll take a look at one of Etsy's many kawaii-inspired Faux Dessert Jewelry Shops (not sure which yet, there are so many contenders!) so keep an eye out for more sweetly inspired treats to come!