Sunday, June 15, 2014

brownies for my bro

a very happy father's day to my big brother!

kavin is by far the best guy i know. always there for any of us, supportive and encouraging with a sprinkling of tough love. incredibly generous with his time and full of heart, becoming a father has only made him better. it makes me smile to see him and abby together--love simply radiates.

kavin, i love you and wish you THE best father's day (and lots more to come)!

how about we have some good ol' fashioned brownies to celebrate~

in the past couple years i've been a little 'adventurous' in my baking, trying recipes that feature unusual spices and flavors or adding a little twist on the traditional. kavin, along with the rest of my family, has lovingly been my taste tester. he's had to put up with quite a lot of sweets with cardamom, earl grey, lavender, etc. so i think it's time to bring back the basics. brownies. no hidden black beans or avocado mixed in. no random swirl of caramel (although that might not be a bad idea...). not even walnuts. just chocolate fudgy brownies.

i chose this recipe for its simplicity and because joy the baker is my go-to for most things baked. these brownies were super easy to make and left my apartment smelling like chocolate. (jealous?)

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
::joy the baker's chocolate fudge brownies::
(recipe from joy the baker cookbook)
makes one 8-inch pan

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. grease and flour an 8-inch-square baking dish and set aside.

in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. set aside.

bring about 2 inches of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. in a medium, heatproof bowl, add butter and unsweetened chocolate. place the bowl over, but not touching, the simmering water and allow to melt. stir to incorporate. once melted, remove the bowl from the simmering pot. whisk in brown and granulated sugars. whisk in eggs, yolk, and vanilla. add the flour mixture, all at once, to the chocolate mixture. fold together with a spatula until well incorporated. fold in chocolate chips.

pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. bake until a skewer inserted in the center of the brownie comes out clean. remove from the oven and cool completely before frosting.
brownies last, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 5 days.

*note: the original recipe is for frosted brownies, but i left mine unfrosted

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

time to party...plan

abby's officially one year old! this calls for a big birthday bash!

kavin and jade took care of the venue + food and entertainment, so it left me to figure out decorations, goodie bags (for kiddos only), and anything else i felt like doing ;)

starting with decorations, i kept them to a minimum with two abby-centric displays: one infographic poster and one with month-by-month photos.
i perused pinterest to find inspiration for the infographic and found some helpful diy tips and examples, but the real challenge was designing it myself. i have zero experience using photoshop or the like so it took some time and lots of tinkering to get the poster just right. i used a free photo editor called gimp and downloaded a BUNCH of fonts to play around with (mostly from dafont). once i finished creating the poster, i had it printed at costco as a 20x30" lustre print and mounted it to foam poster board. for my first time playing with a photo editor, i was pretty happy with the result. i think the hardest part was actually picking all the different fonts to use and which of abby's 'loves' to highlight.
next, i enlisted jade to narrow down thousands of abby pictures to just twelve to use for the monthly photos. this was not an easy task, but after a few nights of scrolling through pictures and a final vote, we had our top picks. i used card stock in varying hues of purple and assorted decorative paper to mount and frame each 5x7" print. (only after i laid out the pictures in order did i realize that each row and column never repeated colors or patterns; it was like an accidental craft sudoku!) instead of creating a poster board, i decided to attach ribbons to the photos and hang them in a grid, which i felt was more visually appealing. (looking back, i probably should have included numbers to indicate each month, but even without them everyone seemed to enjoy seeing all the pictures.)
on to the goodie bags. we expected 23 kiddos, ranging from 3 months to 11 years old. i decided early on that i'd bake treats for all and vary the non-edible favors based on age. the general dividing age was 3 years old with some exceptions for the oldest and youngest. i picked up some simple chalkboard-labeled gift bags that i personalized with each kid's name and filled them with an assortment of toys from target, party city, and homegoods:
  * mini bottles of bubbles (wrapped with tissue paper to look like purple flowers)
  * play doh
  * glitter bouncy balls
  * fun-shaped mini erasers
  * 'very hungry caterpillar' jumbo crayons
  * squirty bath/water toys (for the under-3's)
  * mini 'feelings' board books (for the under-3's)

last to go in the bags were the edible treats, which i baked and packaged the day before:
* italian rainbow cookies (in shades of purple instead of the usual red and green)
* bite-sized rice krispie treats
* brown butter chocolate chip cookies
* oatmeal raisin cookies
i packed the rainbow cookies and rice krispies in dixie cups turned mini treat boxes and the cookies in clear bags with purple fuzzy twist ties shaped into tiny hearts. (i brought the leftover goodies to kavin and jade and got their mmm's of approval.)

now, what kind of birthday party would it be without cake?? thankfully, i was only in charge of abby's personal smash cake. since there were going to be close to a hundred guests, kavin let costco provide the birthday cakes for everyone else (two sheet cakes: one chocolate, one vanilla, to which i added a couple homemade cake toppers--gotta keep things pretty and on-theme :P).

::phew:: i don't think i'm quite up for baking cakes to feed 100...a mini 6" cake, though? i'm down. i knew exactly what i'd make for abby: a purple ombre vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream.
i baked a test version of the cake a week before to see how the colors would turn out and made slight adjustments for the final cake. (i had some reservations about using food coloring, but i figured in small doses it's okay...) i wanted distinct yet well-transitioned layers and kept the buttercream plain. i completed the cake with a small cluster of tiny purple flowers and a personalized cake topper.
when it came time for abby smash, we got more of a 'pat the cake and have grandma wipe my hand clean' moment. she's such a little lady :) took a few more pats and pokes before we decided to just feed her some cake directly, haha. from the looks of it, she seemed to enjoy it. success! baby's first cake~
after weeks of putting together all the details, the party was a major hit. the food was tasty, and katie balloons was beyond awesome. i hope all the kiddos liked their goodie bags and that everyone got to check out the poster and pictures. the smash cake was so pretty i'm secretly glad abby didn't smash it. but most importantly, we got to celebrate my favorite little being: miss abby peechaphand!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

happy 1st birthday, abby!

can you believe it's been a year since this happened???

in just twelve months, abby has grown into the most lovable, sweetest, happiest, silliest little person. did i mention super adorable, active, and smart too? ::proud aunt moment::

i can't wait to see what every day, week, month, year brings with this girl. she's truly the best~

happy birthday, abby, i love you!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

mother's day bonus: mini pretzel dogs

when i was still planning the menu for brunch, i casually mentioned pretzel dogs to jade, and she enthusiastically responded with, "yes, hot dog anything." haha. so, as a special treat to our newest mom, i baked up some mini pretzel dogs as a bonus mother's day snack.

i had been meaning to try this recipe ever since joy the baker posted it. i never got around to it because yeasted doughs intimidate me, and i never had a 'reason' to make 16 mini pretzel dogs. so finally i had a reason. i only had to figure out the timing/baking since i knew i wouldn't be able to get it all done at my mom's. luckily at the end of joy's post, she mentioned that the dogs could be stored in the fridge/freezer and reheated--granted they wouldn't be as good as fresh out of the oven (most things aren't).

the whole process of making the dough went surprisingly well. the dough came together all smooth and elastic and rose just like it should have. phew~ i portioned it out into 16 little balls and began rolling them into ropes to wrap around the hot dogs. as i made my way through the dough and dogs, i discovered that the pack of dogs i got only had SEVEN, instead of the expected eight. hmph, thanks a lot, hebrew national. once i was certain i didn't accidentally lose a hot dog, i made the last two dough balls into mini twisty pretzels.
with all the hot dogs wrapped up, into the baking soda boiling water they went. the baking soda is what gives the pretzel their distinct shell and chew. after a quick dip in the water, an egg wash, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and some time in the oven, the pretzel dogs were ready to eat. they had the perfect brown pretzel shell but were still nice and soft inside. yay! they came out great :) and were relatively easy. my worries about working with yeast were put to rest, and reheating the pretzel dogs later worked just fine (but definitely better fresh from the oven).
hot dogs wrapped in pretzel dough--seriously, where can you go wrong?

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...
:: mini pretzel dogs ::
(recipe from joy the baker)
makes 16 pretzel dogs (made from cutting hot dogs in half)

1 ½ cups warm water (between 110 and 115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
about 14 cups of water
1 cup baking soda
1 large egg, beaten, with a splash of water
salt and pepper for topping

in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine warm water and sugar. sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and set aside for 5 minutes. the mixture will begin to foam and froth. if it doesn’t, throw the mixture away and start again with new yeast.

once the yeast and water is frothy, add the flour, salt, and melted butter. using the dough hook, mix on low speed until well combined. increase the speed to medium and knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, creating a ball of dough around the dough hook. beat on medium speed for approximately 4 minutes.

remove the dough from the bowl. the dough will be soft, pliable, and just a bit sticky. that’s perfect. scrape any residue out of the bowl and coat the bowl with a bit of vegetable oil. place the dough back in the bowl, sprinkle with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and store in a warm place to rise. allow dough to rise, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

place baking racks in the center and upper third of the oven. preheat oven to 425 degrees F. line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and lightly brush the paper with oil. it’s important to brush the parchment paper or the pretzels will stick!

combine water and baking soda in a large pan (8 quart is fine) saucepan and bring to a boil.

while the water comes to a boil, turn the dough out onto a clean, slightly oiled work surface. divide dough into 8 or 16 pieces, depending on how large you’d like your pretzel dogs. 8 pieces of dough for whole hot dogs. 16 pieces of dough if you’re doing to slice the hot dogs in half.

start with the fingers of both hands in the center of the dough, and roll, moving your hands outward as you roll. roll the dough along the oiled surface until you have about a 24-inch or 12-inch piece of rope (depending on how large your piece of dough was...the more dough the longer the rope).

wrap pretzel around a hot dog, making sure to seal the ends.

when water has come to a boil, gently lower a few pretzel dogs into the boiling water. boil for 30 seconds. remove carefully, using a flat, slotted spatula. place on prepared baking sheet. brush boiled pretzels with beaten egg, and add coarse sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

bake until deeply golden brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. transfer to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving warm.

soft pretzels are best enjoyed the day they are made.

if you’re not going to enjoy all your pretzel dogs, double wrap them in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. when ready to serve, transfer out of plastic and into a piece of foil. wrap well and bake in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes, or until heated through.