Monday, May 29, 2017

Easy Summer Dessert in Red, White and Blue


Savoring the fresh picked fruits and berries of summer is one of the season's most delightful and simple pleasures. 
So what better way to kick off the unofficial start of the summertime than with a quick and easy dessert highlighting their ripe juicy flavor and naturally patriotic colors, perfect for a variety of summer holidays and entertaining.
For this sweet treat, I used my version of a Charlotte Russe dessert recipe from a previous post on Downton Abbey, substituting a vanilla yogurt in keeping with the red, white and blue theme. You can add your favorite flavor of clear extract - vanilla, lemon or orange to enhance the flavor. For a topping, I used blueberries and strawberries but raspberries or pitted cherries would work wonderfully as well.
simply line a bowl with clear plastic wrap, arrange lady fingers, fill with yogurt mixture and chill

for full instructions and more photos click the link below
Ring Carson for tea
 (just scroll down the Downton post for the recipe): 

Once chilled invert onto plate and garnish with berries and mint


serve with icy lemonade

For more Fruit Inspired Summertime Sweets visit our previous posts

starting top left: watermelon cake, summer berry basket, watermelon meringues, berry easy meringues, cherry ice cream floats

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Thinking Spring Tablescape and Arhaus inspiration


While the twentieth officially marks the beginning of Spring, here in the northeast US we're still experiencing more of March's proverbial "lion" than "lamb-like" weather. With icy mounds of snow still lining the streets and temperatures coyly dancing above and below freezing, it's easy to let one's mind drift dreamily to the promise of green grass and warmer Spring days ahead. 
Recently I discovered that the beautiful home decor and furnishing company Arhaus, was looking to celebrate the season with fresh takes on tablescapes. I browsed their exquisite site of finely crafted furniture, nature inspired outdoor accents and timeless yet fresh decor for inspiration and was ready to Think Spring!
   images and inspiration from Arhaus: Dining and Outdoor and more  
I took inspiration from nature's first signs of Spring; blades of grass peaking through melting snow, crisp brown twigs just beginning to bud, and birds and bunnies making their cheerful appearances.
 I kept my palette in natural neutral tones of taupes and creams, with pops of springy grass green and some colorful floral touches, and let textures play a starring role. 

No need to stick strictly to the rules of formal dining decor for a relaxed gathering. Spring is the perfect time to think "outside" and round up garden or garden inspired accessories. Planters, statuary, and even tiny benches make fun accents indoors too.
Springtime feathered and four footed friends add a touch of whimsy. 
glass cloches add lightness and add a green house feel
Hanging accents from above can add an easy and extra festive touch to the setting. I popped tiny greens and craft store butterflies into clear glass ornaments and hung among a petite sparkly chandelier for fun flare. 

Quick and Easy Topiaries
rope craft moss
faux (or real) budding branches
craft moss
floral foam
suitable planters
nature themed accents

These simple and fast topiaries add a little "no maintenance" greenery to your table or decor and can be adapted for different seasons or themes
Simply trim branches and moss roping to desired size, shape and insert securely with floral foam into planter. Camouflage foam with craft moss and add any nature themed accents like birds, nests, or flowers.

"Winter is on my head,
but eternal Spring is in my heart"
                         Victor Hugo


Wishing everyone a Happy Spring!



Monday, February 27, 2017

Easy Irish Soda bread and Blackberry Butter



For those living where the month of March means chilly, gray, and not-quite-Spring days, it's nice to know that come the seventeenth of the month, there's a perfect reason to celebrate and brighten our drab wintry moods. While admittedly not a "major" holiday, St. Patricks Day is such a wonderful way to embrace the vibrance and charm of Irish culture. Of course all the vividly overly green dyed food, funny hats, cheeky sayings, and free flowing liquor, is lots of fun, but for a simpler, low key nod to the Emerald Isle, I thought I'd whip up a basic bread and butter, no green dye needed.

Irish Soda Bread
I was lucky to have found a wonderful cookbook at, of all places, a store in our area called Five Below -yes everything is $5 or less
 The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook. (Parragon Books, UK)  features recipes for classic simple fare, a bit on customs and history  and beautiful photography from around Ireland. For this St. Patrick's I thought I'd give their soda bread a try. While I don't have a great record of baking from scratch, this recipe with only a handful of ingredients, seemed a do-able challenge. I used their basic soda bread instructions (there's a molasses version as well) to make three small loaves instead of the one larger for gifting.
You'll Need
   
3 2/3 cups all purpose flour
more for dusting
oil, cooking spray, or parchment for baking sheet
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cup buttermilk 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Sift flour, salt and soda in mixing bowl
Create well in center and pour in "most of buttermilk" 
I started with 1 1/4 cup
Mix together with hands until soft but not too sticky, slowly adding additional buttermilk if necessary
Knead on floured surface and divide into three round loaves
cut a deep cross into top
Folklore says this is either to ward off evil spirits or let the fairies out(!) which in either case is more charming than the probable science of baking reason
Bake about 25-30 minutes until golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom.
Cool on wire rack and serve warm with butter if desired
pop in a basket and serve with berries and coffee or tea or add some
Blackberry Butter, recipe below

Blackberry Butter
In honor of the rambling blackberries which grow all through the Irish countryside, I thought I'd make a flavored butter with a decidedly Irish twist. An online search found many ideas, but I whipped together my own based on a couple recipes.
You'll Need
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 blackberries
2 tablespoons seedless blackberry preserves
2 teaspoons honey
In a mixing bowl whip together butter, preserves and honey.
On a lower speed mix in blackberries so some rustic chunks remain
Keep chilled (letting it sit overnight let's the flavors mingle)
This is one of those non-recipe recipes where different elements can be adjusted to suit your own taste.

Bread Labels
Smaller loaves and mini jars of butter are perfect as little gifts for a friend or neighbor in the spirit of Irish hospitality. I created a label from a photo I took in Ireland ages ago and a charming vintage image from the thegraphicsfairy.com
  

I wrapped each loaf in parchment and tied with a ribbon. Note: scotch tape won't stick on parchment's waxy finish. I then taped the back of the label to the ribbon and added one of those stickers from a stationary set
I scooped the butter into a clean baby food jar 
(Our senior cats love baby food as a treat -
 I checked with vet to see which flavors were ok)
and tied off in a cellophane treat bag


If you're as smitten with Ireland as we are at PennyWise, you can pop over to our previous posts for easy Irish inspired ideas, recipes and a few travel photos
previous posts:

                                                                             
      So delighted to be featured at Imparting Grace!



Saturday, February 4, 2017

Valentine's French Hot Chocolate



Just hearing the words "Chocolate" and "Paris" seem to instantly conjure up dreamy notions of love. So naturally a sweet chocolatey treat inspired by this most romantic of cities seemed a perfect combination for celebrating l'amour this Valentine's. 
Leave it to the french to elevate, a winter childhood favorite, to a gourmet experience. Apparently, Chocolate Chaud, or their version of hot chocolate, is not the apres-sledding powder and marshmallow mix, warming tiny mitten clad hands, but a rich, decadent and grown-up luxury to be savored.
 Although I admit to overindulging in sweets and treats during my limited travels abroad, (I'm quite sure I've eaten my weight in macarons), I've never, sadly, had the chance to sample the famous hot chocolate of Paris. 
With limited time and budget barring any overseas jaunt and a wintry wind chilling the air, I thought I'd attempt this cozy yet decadent treat here at home. After several attempts at different chocolate chaud recipes (all in the name of selfless research of course) I found this relatively simple, not overly sweet but flavorful version from 

Chocolate Chaud
   
2 cups whole milk
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons light brown sugar  
  
 Heat the milk in a medium saucepan.When milk is warm, whisk in  chocolate, stirring until melted. Cook at a low boil for about 3 minutes, whisking constantly. Watch carefully as mixture may boil over.  Taste, and add brown sugar.
Chocolate will thicken upon standing
*The original recipe suggests a high quality bittersweet chocolate finely chopped, but I subbed the easier and less costly chocolate chips.

Cafe Cups
Unable to find the small round bowls often used for serving warm drinks in France, I improvised with oversized white mugs and plates from the dollar store.
 I used a glass friendly paint from my craft store to add some romantic sentiments "Je t'aime" and "Toi et Moi"  (I love you, You and Me) in pink and gold tones.
Simply follow your paint manufacturer's instructions and get creative














Flavored Whipped Cream
The chocolate is delicious as is but for added panache I thought I'd add a little flavored whipped cream topping. Simply whip one cup heavy cream and add one tablespoon powdered sugar and vanilla, raspberry or almond extract, adjusting to taste.

Wishing Everyone
 a 
Sweet Valentine's Day!




Sunday, January 22, 2017

Winter decor: Ice Skate Redo



While there a few things which tempt me into the great outdoors during winter's frigid cold, the thought of gliding carefree over a shimmering stretch of ice seems to be one them. There is something universally gleeful in this pastime which instantly turns everyone into kids again. 
Maybe that's why ice skates are so popularly featured in winter decor. Displayed as is, or adorned with sparkle, paint or trim, skates can brighten those chilly grey post holiday days and bring to mind the happiest of winter times.
They can be incorporated into your table decor for an Apres-Skate tea party or a skate makes a fun winter accent on a front door.
In skating over thin ice, our safety is our speed 

                                       Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ice Skate Redo
While these skates were past their prime,(the blade on one was damaged) this one gets a second act as a decorative accent when spruced up with a vintage printable and some craft store wintry sparkle  
Old skates can often be found at thrift stores and yard sales
You'll find lots of design ideas for decorated ice skates online, some truly works of art.
This redo required minimal artistic skills, just some paint and glue and glitter.
 I chose a pastel palette with white and "sparkly"  accents to match our theme, which handily, I already had in my trove of craft supplies.
faux fur trim and dimensional paint add an old fashioned touch
I added a pink pastel border to this sweet vintage skating duo from the thegraphicsfairy.com

Simply set the table in snowy shades like icy blue and creamy white and accent with wintry touches. Then warm up with a pot of tea and your favorite wintry store-bought or home made treats in shades echoing the season's snowy landscape.
a white woodland forest friend pays a visit. 
Bottle brush trees from Christmas decor are kept out for our winter woodland theme.
another take on the door decor: 
Instead of displaying with a wreath, fill skate with scaled down wintry nature inspired touches  

While I knew ice skating had been around for centuries, I didn't know much about its fascinating history

Some Ice Skating Fun Facts
Ice skates fashioned from animal bones were created as early as 3,000 bc.!) 

Skating and games on ice were popular in China as early as the Song Dynasty (which started in 960 AD) 

By the early middle ages, skating's popularity, as a both means of transport and recreation grew throughout Europe when skates now boasted more advanced edged metal blades 

The first skating club was founded in Scotland in 1740


By 1400 ice skaters had their own patron saint, Lidwina! 

Louis XVI, Madame Pompadour and Napoleon were all fans of the sport

Happy Skating and Thanks for Visiting!