Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Valentine's Day - whether you're celebrating with friends, family, pups (mine's cuddled up right next to me), or significant others!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Obsession with Mason Jars

I'm really loving mason jars these days. They are inexpensive, classic and incredibly versatile.

On a recent rainy weekend I did a little chalkboard art project. I cannot wait to use these chalkboard jars for porch party get-togethers in when the weather gets warmer. In the meantime, they can double as cute packaging for a valentine! 

To make the jars, I masked a rectangular space with painters' tape, added a few coats of chalkboard paint with a sponge brush (you will need at least two - it streaks), and let it dry. I removed the paint not too far into the drying process so that I could fix anything that went out of my tape lines before it was permanent. Step-by-step photos are below. 

It's hard having chalkboard paint in the house. So many options and possibilities! While my mason jars were drying I wandered around our condo, paintbrush in hand, hoping to find old items I could paint. My goal was to find an old, but still fun picture frame that needed a new life as a classy chalkboard. I had no luck, but an old night stand that I'd already painted white and added a mercury glass handle to got a new coat of chalk board paint on its front panel. (Got to love old IKEA pieces --- no shame in experimenting! and at least I didn't try to tackle a wall.)

Thursday, February 7, 2013


This is the calendar at my desk. Why I've been craving macarons the past week needs no explanation.

So I thought, why buy macarons when I could learn how to make them? Great thought - but it turns out macarons are quite high maintenance. This recipe might take me a bit of practice, but I'll share it, via Martha Stewart, in case anyone happens to be a macaron prodigy (and if so, please share your secrets.)

I set aside a Saturday afternoon to make these finicky little cookies. While the final product was not quite ready for a public debut, they were quite tasty and a nice chewy consistency. There's definitely potential - and for a somewhat decadent dessert during Saturday night movie night, they worked just great.

Ingredients for cookies:
  • 1 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 cup ground blanched almonds (this sounds fancy, but it just means skin-less)
  • 3 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • food coloring (if desired)

Ingredients for filling:
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (room temperature)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Whisk together the confectioners' sugar and ground almonds (make sure these are really finally ground). Set aside.
3. In the a separate bowl, whip egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy. Add in your food coloring if you want colored macarons.
4. Increase the speed to high and gradually add in the granulated sugar. Whip until stiff glossy peaks form.
5. Gently fold in the confectioners' sugar/almond mixture.
6. Using either a pastry bag (or a large ziplock bag with a corner cut, which is what I did - no professional baker am I) pipe 1-inch disks of batter onto the baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
7. Let these stand at room temperature until the shiny surface on the macaroons turns dull (about 15 min.) I've also seen recipes that say to let them set an hour, which I'm going to try next time, as mine didn't rise as much as I'd hoped.
8. Bake for 15 minutes with the door slightly open.
9. Remove from oven and let sit on the baking sheet until completely cooled. Gently remove the macarons from the parchment.

While the macarons are baking, you can start making the filling. I tried raspberry filling, and it seems like it is pretty easy to adjust for other flavors.

1. Whisk egg whites and sugar in an electric mixer. Set the mixer bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heat the mixture, whisking opens, until the sugar is dissolved and its warm to the touch.
2. Put the bowl back on the mixer and whip on high speed until the mix is stiff and shiny (3-5 min). Add in butter, one piece at a time, and continue mixing until the butter is thoroughly incorporated. To make raspberry filling, using about half the butter and a spoonful or two of raspberry jam.

Flip half the macarons so the flat side faces up. Pipe in the filling and top with another macaron. Either eat or refrigerate.

Baking with the oven door open - which actually makes them a good winter cookie!

Heating the filling

Friday, February 1, 2013

Whiskey and Wine

It's guys' night at our house.

I'm sitting in our bedroom, cuddling with our pup, listening to guys chant and shout while negotiating poker hands and throwing down sipping tumblers of whiskey. Ah, guys night. (Does anyone else hear phantom neighbors knocking on your door when you know it's way too loud in your place? The joys of condo living.)

In preparation for the event, I pinned a few recipes that look absolutely indulgent yet fratty. My husband begged me not to politely declined my offer to make homemade pretzels with jalapeno dip and miniature deep dish pizzas for the affair. So now I need another excuse, because both sound phenomenal.

I fortunately escaped guys' night and tagged along with a friend to a dinner party. (Which was lots of fun - thanks Blair!) We ended up having a great conversation with a visitor from Argentina and it made me want to go back! John and I took a trip to Buenos Aires and Mendoza (Malbec and chocolate pairings at 9 a.m. anyone?) in April and it was one of my favorite trips to date. If anyone is looking for a getaway that is cultural, warm and a little off the beaten path, I highly recommend Argentina. It's more affordable than Europe, the people are the friendliest I've met (one b&b even let me borrow their front desk computer so I could turn in a grad school paper on time - no questions), and the food is to die for. Not to mention they have the hustle of the big city in Buenos Aires, the quaintness of wine country and mountains in Mendoza, and glaciers in Patagonia.

On a side note, we booked our winery visits, cooking class and hiking/rappelling in Mendoza through Uncorking Argentina and they were absolutely. amazing. Here and here are a few helpful articles on the area from the NY Times and on one of my favorite restaurants in Mendoza, Azafran.

Since it's about 10 degrees in Chicago and snowing, I'm going to continue reminiscing. Vacation cannot come soon enough!
Uco Valley. THIS is where I would live if logistics were not a question. 

Tasting notes = Not quite pros.


Lunch, tea and vineyards.

Photos: Me, John and friends
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