A Southern Grace: February 2012

February 24, 2012

goofballs and a giveaway


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There are many words in the English language that could be used to describe me. Quirky is a good one. Efficient would be another. A word you won't find on that list is stylish.

No, I've never cared much about the latest trends. The worst thing of which you could accuse me regarding those is that I usually eventually do follow them, just a few months years too late.

That said, I have to give a huge shout-out to the phenomenal crew at Shabby Apple. They have supplied me with a gorgeous and OH-so-stylish dress from their nifty Mad Hatter collection that elevates my level of sophistication simply by hanging in my closet. Now, if only I had an event to which I could wear it...

Good news--you, too, can be stylish, with the help of Shabby Apple! One lucky commenter will win her (or his...) very own dress! Just take a moment to peruse their lovely and fashionable dresses--you'll find everything from little black dresses to fun and flirty frocks. The winner has his or her pick (no exchanges, please)!

To be entered in the giveaway, leave a comment here. Tell me the latest fashion trends in your area of the world. For extra chances to win, do one or both of the following, being sure to leave another comment to let me know what you've done:
*Like my Facebook page
*Like Shabby Apple on Facebook

Other fluff:
*There's a 10% off coupon that all of you can use. Just enter "asoutherngrace10off" at checkout. The coupon will be active for 30 days.
*This giveaway is open to US residents.
*Comments will be open from today until next Friday, March 2nd. I'll contact the winner shortly thereafter, so be sure to leave me a way to contact you. Good luck!

(I am an unrepentant) Goofball(s)
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups dates, chopped
2 eggs, slightly beaten
5 cups crispy rice cereal
1 cup coconut

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the sugar and bring to a boil. Add the dates and cook 5 minutes, or until the dates are cooked down. Cool a bit, then add the eggs slowly. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cereal until coated. Cool until able to handle and then form balls, roll them in coconut, and cool them completely on wax paper.

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February 17, 2012

i scream, you scream


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Did you have a favorite ice cream novelty as a kid? I did. We didn't have anything like an ice cream truck in the backwoods of southern VA, but if we had, I would've chased it for as many miles as my little legs would take me for an orange dreamsicle*.

*(Question: Are they called creamsicles in your neck of the woods? I've heard it both ways.)

These cupcakes stem from my fond memories of that treat made of vanilla ice cream covered in orange sherbet. I filled a lightly orange-flavored cupcake with a fluffy sweetened vanilla whipped cream and topped it with a luscious buttercream frosting beschpeckled with orange zest.

I'll be the first to admit that, while amazingly tasty, these still aren't as good as I remember those dreamsicles to be. (I suppose there's a teeny chance that my memories are skewed.) Regardless, it's just a different kind of satisfaction. The flavor is similar, the cupcakes are soft, the frosting is rich, and those things, my friends, are enough for this gal.

Dreamsicle Cupcakes
(makes 16)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
zest of one orange

1/2 cup heavy cream (or more, if you're greedy)
3 tablespoons granulated or powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

orange buttercream frosting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. To make the cupcakes, cream butter, sugar, and orange zest until pale and fluffy. With mixer running, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl. Beat in vanilla extract. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, and beating until combined after each.

Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until testers inserted in the centers come out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks.
To fill the cupcakes, first whip the cream and sugar until slightly stiff. Fold in the vanilla. Then carve out a cone-shaped hole in each cupcake and carefully spoon or squirt the whipped cream inside. Apply frosting generously to cupcakes and, after giving the components a few minutes to get friendly, feed your face.

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February 15, 2012

yes, novica


Have you heard about Novica? They're a mission-driven website associated with National Geographic working with oodles of talented artists around the world. Their offerings include everything from home decor and stylish jewelry (some of which I am now a proud owner!) to exclusive paintings and one-of-a-kind, handcrafted furniture.

Here's their mission statement:

"We want to give artists and artisans around the world a global platform to express their true artistic talents and to spur their creativity. And, we want to provide you with access to unique, hard-to-find items at great values that only the Internet infrastructure can allow.
At the deepest essence of our philosophy, we want to create a bridge between you and the many talented artisans across the globe.
We want you to know about who you're buying from. We want you to feel that attachment to the product and to the hands that created it."

I was SO fortunate to get an offer to review their products and website, and I'm not lying when I tell you that I deliberated for hours trying to decide what to order. Each item is unique and each item is exquisite.

Check out the gorgeous amber earrings (I picked a pair--can you guess which ones?), nifty women's gloves (it's alpaca wool, ya'll!), and stunning scarves and silk shawls (we don't wear shawls enough anymore). For the fellas, they have everything from wallets to scarves, cufflinks, and other accessories from Peru.

The ordering process is easy and straightforward, shipping is quick, and the product packaging is thoughtful and well done. Two things to note: First, since each item is unique, there are a limited number available. More than once, I tentatively decided on something but didn't place the final order, only to find that there were none left when I was finally ready! So if you see something you like, jump on it! Secondly, there are sales all the time on the site. One of the pairs of earrings I picked dropped in price by the time I decided to finalize my order. That said, I guess dilly-dallying has its rewards sometimes. :)

The moral of this story? I recommend Novica to everyone who loves attractive and distinctive fair-trade items.

Important note: While the fine folks at Novica did provide a gift certificate for me, the opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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February 8, 2012

spice world


Surprisingly, shockingly, and against all odds, I was commissioned with making the desserts for our Thanksgiving last year, way back in twenty-eleven. Yes, I'm just posting about them now, over two months later. Judge not lest ye be judged.

In addition to a triple cream cheesecake smothered with a baked apple topping (!), I made one heck of a phenomenal sky-high cake (if I do say so myself--horn tooted!)

The cake was an aptly-titled duchess* spice cake, fragrant with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. To moisten the cake, I applied a cinnamon-infused simple syrup to each layer. The finishing and, dare I say it, finest touch was a brown sugar cream cheese frosting. How I, an avid lover of cream cheese frosting, have managed to miss this more mellow and flavorful variation is beyond me. It's amazing, and I recommend it (and this particular cake-frosting combination) 100%.

*On an unrelated note, the name of this cake calls to mind a show that I'm happy to say I adored way before it became the thing to do. Matthew and Mary, I'm pulling for you crazy kids!

Duchess Empress (that's a promotion, folks!) Cake with Brown Sugar Frosting
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2/3 cup butter
1 cup buttermilk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cinnamon syrup:
2 cups water
4 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Brown sugar cream cheese frosting:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
Sift flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt together.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the sugars and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the dry ingredients alternating with the buttermilk and mix just until incorporated. Beat in vanilla.
Bake at for 30 to 35 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely, then cut each layer in half horizontally. (It helps tremendously to freeze the layers for about 30 minutes first.)

To make the simple syrup, add water and cinnamon to a small pot and bring to boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, and strain out cinnamon sticks. Bring water back to a boil, add sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.

To make the frosting, beat butter, cream cheese, and brown sugar until smooth. I felt the need to add a little sifted powdered sugar to obtain the proper spreading consistency, but use your own judgment.

To assemble, liberally brush the four sides of exposed cake with the simple syrup. Slather the frosting between the halved and syruped layers (stacking as you go), then frost the sides and top in a decorative fashion. Chill for a bit to let things mingle, then slice and serve!

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February 7, 2012

it's that time again!


Guest post alert!

I wrote a little something for Laura from A Healthy Jalapeno and she actually put it up--what a peach! I think you'll all enjoy her blog, as she makes a wide range of edibles and writes about them in an enthusiastic way. Check it out!

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February 1, 2012

chai one on


I wouldn't call myself a tea-drinker. I imagine there's something soothing and cathartic about bouncing that little bag of herbs up and down in a steaming mug of water, but the flavors I've tried have never really done anything for me.

That said, I shamelessly confess to being obsessed with chai tea. I first discovered it when I was a barista at a Barnes and Noble cafe (proudly serving Starbucks beverages since 1993!), and I've loved it ever since. Yes, I like it even more than the sinfully decadent white chocolate mocha.

If you predicted that I used a recipe from Martha's book, you get 30 points and a cookie. I did make it my own, however, by filling it with dulce de leche (which, for the record, was quickly absorbed by the cupcake and left a giant hole in the cupcake...doh!) and topping it with a cinnamon-tinged buttercream frosting. Even though the caramel seeped into the cupcake, the flavor was still there and delicious. The only thing affected was the appearance--I suppose a cone-shaped crater can be a bit off-putting.

This is a great cupcake. I'm feeling generous today--62 points for Martha and her team (but no cookies!).

Chai Cupcakes with Caramel Stuffing and Cinnamon Buttercream
(from Martha)

3/4 cup milk
2 bags black tea
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon course salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup dulce de leche

Cinnamon Buttercream:
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2-3 tablespoons milk, room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
Bring milk to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat; add tea bags, and let steep, covered, 15 minutes. Remove tea bags, squeezing the bags over the pan, and discard. Allow milk to cool completely.
Whisk together both flours, baking powder, salt, pepper and spices.
With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of tea-infused milk, and beating until just combined after each.
Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until tops spring back when lightly touched and are pale golden, 10-12 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.
To make the frosting, beat the butter with an electric mixer for a few minutes. Add the cinnamon and milk and briefly blend. Add the powdered sugar gradually until the frosting is thick enough to spread easily. If the frosting is too dry, add additional milk until the desired consistency is reached.
To fill the cupcakes, carve out a cone-shaped hole (forget donut holes--I'm marketing cake holes!) and carefully spoon the dulce de leche inside. Apply frosting generously to cupcakes and, after giving the components a few minutes to get to know each other, devour.

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