Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Recipe Round-Up: Chocolate Ganache Strawberry Cupcakes

Love is in the air, folks. Can you feel it?

It comes in the form of these cupcakes.
They are chocolaty. And fruity. And ganache-y. They are the perfect combination of everything you have ever wanted in a cupcake. Ever. I posted these a couple of years ago but I thought they deserved an encore. Valentine's Day is oh-so close afterall.
So, let's do this. I use my favorite one-bowl chocolate cake recipe but you can use my favorite awesome box mix recipe if you prefer. I'm all about easy.
Add sugar, brown sugar, flour, cocoa and butter...throw in a couple of eggs and some vanilla...and don't forget the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Then mix.
And then remember that you forgot to add the milk. Don't be like me.
And mix again so your batter looks like cake batter instead of brownie batter. But I guess it's a win/win either way.

Scoop the batter into a lined cupcake pan and pop those suckers in the oven.

Oh man. Now your home is going to smell like chocolate heaven, which is the best kind of heaven if you ask me.

Now for the ganache:


I always use dark chocolate because that is my favorite food group but you can use any type of chocolate you prefer. Mix until all the chocolate is melted and the ganache is smooth and silky.
Then bathe in it.
 Take your cooled cupcakes and dip the tops into the ganache. I popped mine into the refrigerator for 20 minutes while I made the frosting. A cold cupcake will keep the frosting from melting.
Now for the strawberry cream cheese frosting:

Cream cheese frosting is my favorite side dish. Here's how I do mine: add cream cheese and butter and mix. Pour in your strawberry puree and mix. And finally, add powdered sugar and a pinch of salt.
And mix slowly. Trust me on this.
Put in the refrigerator for 20 minutes so it gets nice and cold.
And now...frost!


And then...dip!

Beautiful things happen when you combine chocolate, strawberries and love.
Beautiful, beautiful things.

Easy Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Country Living
Makes 24-28 cupcakes

2 cup(s) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cup(s) whole milk
2/3 cup(s) granulated sugar
2/3 cup(s) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup(s) unsweetened cocoa
3/4 cup(s) butter
3 large eggs
2 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
1 teaspoon(s) baking powder
1 teaspoon(s) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon(s) salt

Make the batter: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray cupcake pans with non-stick cooking spray or use cupcake liners. Set aside. In a large bowl, using a mixer set at low speed, combine the flour and remaining 10 ingredients. Increase mixer speed to medium and continue to beat for 3 more minutes.

That's it! So simple! Just fill your cupcake tins and bake until tops spring back when lightly touched, about 15-20 minutes. This is also excellent for cakes as well.

Chocolate Ganache:
8 oz. heavy whipping cream
10 oz. dark chocolate chips (or any type you prefer)

Heat heavy cream in a sauce pan on low heat until simmering. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips. Stir until chocolate is melted and is smooth and silky. Cool to room temperature. Dip cupcakes (and strawberries) and place on a cookie sheet with wax paper. Pop them into the refrigerator to set for 20 minutes.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 cup fresh strawberries, diced
1/8 cup sugar
16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 lbs powdered sugar
pinch of salt

Combine diced strawberries and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Macerate the strawberries with a fork or use an immersion blender until desired consistency. (If you do not like strawberry seeds in your frosting, you can strain the strawberry puree with a fine mesh strainer.) In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and butter and mix thoroughly. Slowly add the pureed strawberries and mix. Add powdered sugar and salt and mix slowly until blended, then mix thoroughly for 1 minute. Set in refrigerator for 20 minutes and frost cupcakes.

**For chocolate-covered strawberries, melt your favorite sweetened chocolate and dip with the strawberries. Place on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet and chill until chocolate is set.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Recap You Didn't Know You Needed

My re-entry into the real world last week was a bit rough. My plane from the DR had to make an emergency landing in Miami. It had something to do with our landing gear not working properly and the pilots were 94% sure that we would land without a problem.


Needless to say, we landed perfectly and then proceeded through customs, immigration and then re-boarded with the same fearless pilots for our layover in Atlanta. But because of our small detour, both my aunt and I missed our connecting flights and instead arrived home much, much later.

HOWEVER. The trip was unbelievably amazing. Relaxation was the goal and it was accomplished in strides:

The weather was a perfect 80 degrees.

The food was so fresh and delicious that I actually ate shrimp.

There were long conversations into the night, both in Spanish and in English

There were new recipes to tackle in a fully-stocked kitchen.

There was dipping your toes into the ocean and swimming until you became pruny.

There was dancing. Oh, there was dancing.

 And there was time to soak up the glorious sun (with SPF 50, of course), while deepening old relationships and developing new ones.

It was dreamy in every possible way.


And then I came home and the Arctic Vortex arrived.

But my dad also came home for his 72 hour furlough and everything seemed right with the world, Vortex included. On top of that, I got to make cupcakes for a baby shower: coconut cream and double chocolate fudge.

They are my new best friends.

We also went out for my birthday. I wanted us all to be together to celebrate. Sadly, Claire was down with a migraine but the rest of us ate for her:

Carr looks like an undercover cop in this picture. Love it.

Spirit fingers at dinner? Of course.

Two of my most favorite boys.

And finally, if you didn't know, Denver is going to the Super Bowl this weekend. It's a big, freaking deal. And our downtown looks so fantastically cool. It's going to be a great game!

Time to Ride, boys!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Tuesday vs. Wednesday

Tuesday: blue skies, palm trees
Wednesday: snow of death

Tuesday: turquoise waters, warm sand

Wednesday: The frozen wasteland of the eternal winter


Tuesday: Green grass, warm pool

Wednesday: Asphalt ice skating

Tuesday: Perfection

Tuesday is my favorite.

By a lot.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Few Days Away

In September, one of my favorite aunts called me to ask me a very lovely question: would I like to go with her to the Dominican Republic for a few days away.


I did not have to think to know my answer. The thought of warm water, white beaches and sun-filled days with someone I do not get to see very often was more than enough for me to agree. Besides, the words "beach house" and "80 degree temperatures" didn't hurt at all.

So tomorrow, in the depths of winter, with the brown, dirty snow lining the roadways and the cold air that flows over the mountains to land right on top of my house, I will rendezvous with my adventurous aunt and spend the next few glorious days soaking up as much sunshine as this pasty Irish girl can stand.

Everyone needs a few days away, preferably with a tiny umbrella in hand.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Top Ten: The Art of the Blind Date

The blind date: equal parts awkward and awesome with a side of nausea.

I had two blind dates this past weekend and I came away completely exhausted and relieved.  And while I could talk at length about each gentleman, both of whom are God's precious children and loved by their mamas, I will instead focus on my performance.

Over the last few years, I think I have had nearly 30 blind dates. (How can this be my life!?) And in those nearly 30 awkward/awesome/nauseous encounters, I have learned a few things on how to prepare for the best possible outcome, if that even exists:

1. Shoot for having zero expectations. And when I say "zero," what I am really saying is try to have negative expectations. Sometimes, all I hope for is that he is breathing and buys my coffee. And even  that can totally backfire. I have found that the less Facebook stalking I do, the better. Facebook can totally skew your hopes, desires and dreams for your first date experience.

2. Wear what makes you feel amazing. Let's face it, you are already at a deficit when you head into a blind date. They may or may not know what you look like, therefore they may or may not be expecting Amanda Kerr to walk through the door. And while I can strut with the best of them, I like to eat. So, to counter-balance this, we have to feel amazing in who we are and that can be greatly highlighted by loving what we have on. Wear your best jeans, your favorite shirt, all of the things that make you feel good. And as tempting as it may be to show up in either a.) your prom dress or b.) your sweatpants, don't. Just don't.

3. Don't talk about tigers unless you train them or have been mauled by them. Then, BY ALL MEANS, talk away because you have earned it.

4. Have an "out." I say this not to be rude but to protect your sanity. There comes a time in every date when you are not sure if you should keep going or call it a day. Even if it is an amazing date, there needs to be an end time just to give you time to process every single word and facial expression so you can then call 10 of your best friends to analyze it together. I always have something planned approximately 1.5-2 hours after the date starts. This keeps things short and sweet but still with enough time to determine if you would like to see him again...or never, ever again. Whichever.

5. Always carry cash with you. Even though your deepest desire is that he will graciously buy whatever it is you are ordering, this sometimes doesn't happen. And there is nothing more exhilarating than to show some random idiot with bad manners that you are fully capable of buying your own cup of coffee, thank you very much.

6. If you are having a meal, do not order the following: spaghetti, BBQ, big hamburgers or anything else that falls apart easily. It is really hard to be sexy with sauce all over your face.

7. Somehow, find a way to talk normally. I consistenly amaze myself at how awkward I sound and I communicate for a living! Sometimes I even give myself a pep-talk before hand: "It's just talking, Sarah. You've been doing it your whole life. Don't fixate on the weather. Don't get all twangy. And please don't ever let the words 'I sleep with a breathing machine' ever come out of your mouth." It's tough love, but very necessary.

8. Don't take it personally if he does not call you back. Sure, it does reflect the lack of chemistry/attraction to each other but it doesn't change you who are as a person. It just means that there is one less guy in the world that you have to consider in your life plan. It is a weeding-out process. It has taken me a while to learn this but it can make or break your future dating experiences.

9. Try not to say no to a blind date, especially if one of your friends is setting you up. They love you and they want you to be happy. The only reason you can say no is if you have already gone on a blind date with the guy or if you are bleeding. You never know just how great the next date can be.

10. Dating is a freaking freak show. How two people ever meet and fall in love is a TOTAL MIRACLE FROM HEAVEN ABOVE, FOREVER AND AMEN.

Best of luck to you.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The New Year Work-Out Groove

Well you guys have done it again. You made me feel adored and celebrated on my birthday, all 34 years of me. You're super great, yes you are. Thank you.

Just so you know, I plan on celebrating all month, it's just how I like to do things. I have the rodeo this weekend, a fabulous little getaway next week, my dad's visit the weekend after and of course, the end-of-your-birthday-month cake.

Don't you guys do that? Have another cake at the end of your birthday month?

You should. It is exactly what you need. Unless your birthday falls at the end of the month and then having two cakes would just be ridiculous.

Speaking of cakes, I have found some horrible awesome new work-outs. I absolutely love/hate them which means they are doing exactly what I want them to do: Kill me then put me back together with less cushioning.

Actually, they are pretty great. Don't let my whining scare you. They only take 10 minutes to do. I do 30 minutes of hard cardio and then one of these every day (with a day off each week). I am not saying that I have dropped a size or anything, especially when there is cake involved, but I will say that I feel great. Like, I can now lift things over my head and run around the block without getting winded, great.

And, they only take 10 MINUTES. That's not even 1/4 of a Netflix show. And since I can power through a Netflix series like a day after Christmas sale at Target, I should be able to live through 10 minutes of muscle confusion and heart palpitations.

In a very weird, sick way, I think I am addicted to them.


(Help me.)

So, this is for your lower half:


And for your amazing upper half, give this a try:

If you try them out, let me know what you think.

That is, if you can lift your arms to type it out to me.

Oh, I kid.

Sort of.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dear Me at 33

Dear Me,
You survived 33.

You have more wrinkles. And your gray hairs now require more than just tweezers. You can't stay up late like you used to and the thought of having a night at home in your PJ's is almost equal to a night away dancing.


You have battle scars from this year. It beat you up a little. It made you fight to be more of who you are. It made you grieve over things not yet happened, over too many things that went awry and it made you long for the the Home in which you were created.

You learned how to make the salted caramel sauce that has completely revolutionized your life.

You de-cluttered, simplified, and ate a lot of quinoa. You lost weight, gained weight and then lost it again (almost).

You had some unbelievably great cooking classes, completely void of food poisoning, house fires or blood. You realized that food is more than just something to eat, it a vehicle for friendship, comfort, culture and love.

You went on a few horrendous dates.  And then you had a few really good ones. They almost balance out except for the guy who looked like serial killer.

You now have to sleep with an oxygen machine. It is zero percent sexy.

You had to release a few of your dreams and plans. This was the hardest part of your year as you wrestled and waited and wrestled some more. God brought you to a place of heartache and then you (eventually) allowed Him to help you rebuild something new and better.

You have been blown away by high school students who know more about the Bible than you do.

Your car is still running. That will always be a highlight to any year.

You spent three days on the beach by yourself and it was exactly what you needed...especially when the Navy SEALS ran by.

Your friendships grew deeper, richer, became more valuable. You saw God work through people who then worked through you.

You cried over a boy. I hate when that happens, but you did. And he wasn't worth it.

You spent an entire day with your nephew and you found yourself completely in awe of who he is becoming: one part child, one part young man.

You became a bigger fan of your dad, more amazed at your mom, a more obnoxious cheerleader of your siblings and a better friend to yourself.

You survived year 33, but let's conquer 34. You are more than a conqueror in Him.

With great anticipation,

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Shades of Blue - A Treehouse Video

Treehouse Sanctum is wrapping up their last song in the recording studio and are in the process of planning their big record launch!

Can I get a "Woot Woot?!"

Here is a glimpse behind the scenes of what it takes to make one of their songs, kids and all. It is totally a toe-tapping song.

Shades of Blue from Treehouse Sanctum on Vimeo.

Check them out on Facebook. I dig 'em.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sugar Rush

Apparently Alabama lost last night.

Boomer Sooner.

Color of the Year

When January hits, I am always ready to bring out bold, vibrant colors. Spring is only two months away and the thought of green grass and warm nights is enough to make me want to wear flip flops in the snow.

The color for 2014 is helping me make the transition from black to something brighter. I am wild about this year's color because not only does it go great with my skin tone (I am a WINTER) but it will transition easily into every season.

SIDE NOTE: My sister always finds out the color of the year early and lets me know how I should plan for the upcoming year. She is my fashion Sherpa, if you will.

This year the color is Radiant Orchid and I am kind of in love with it.

Just soak it in, people, because you are going to see a lot of it in 2014. It is everywhere!

If you are wanting to dive into this year's color trend, here are a few of my favorite orchid-infused things.

This darling pillow from Joss and Main:

For your tootsies:

As an accent wall, a bedroom dresser or the interior of your kitchen cabinets:

Some arm candy from Michael Kors:

To tuck you in at night:

As a way to celebrate your big day:


To accessorize anything:

You can even buy a net for your face...if you want a net in your face:

So, there you go, purple-lovers! This is your year! Live it up.

And if you want more ideas of where you can find Radiant Orchid, Pinterest has an entire board dedicated to it!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Recipe Round-Up: Roasted Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad

Hey you! It's 2014!

Let's rock this year. Let's do it right. Let's soak up some sunshine and see the world. And maybe watch some Netflix.

And let's kick it off with a ridiculously good quinoa salad.

It's totally legit. And comforting. And delicious. And just what your body needs.

I promise.

I had a cooking class two days before Christmas with some of my most favorite girls. And this was on the menu. I have come to love this recipe so much that I thought I would share it with you. I'm all about sharing these days.

So, let's get this new year off on the right foot and bust this out!

Quinoa. It's the super food of the Andes. And it is so good for you, packed with protein and other really awesome things.
All you do is measure, rinse, and cook it in water. Bring it to a boil, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes. Once it is cooked, let it cool and fluff with a fork.
Fork fluffing is totally a real thing.

Butternut squash is a hidden gem in the vegetable aisle. It only takes 25 minutes for it to roast up to caramelized deliciousness. To cut into cubes, you:
1. cut off ends
2. cut in half
3. scoop out seeds
4. peel
5. slice
6. dice
SIDE NOTE: You'll want a really sharp paring knife to help you do this. The skin is particularly tough but you are totally tougher.

Place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and rub with olive oil, salt and pepper. Pop them in the oven for 25 minutes or until sizzling and soft to the touch.

Roasted perfection.
The heat brings out their sweetness, making it the perfect compliment to a hearty salad.
Once your quinoa is cooked and fluffed, pour it into a large bowl.Give it a taste, it has a nutty richness to it. Fantastic.
So, let's add the beautiful buttnernut squash...
...and chop up a few extras like dried cranberries, walnuts and sharp cheese.
Trust me. The supporting cast is rocking it.

Lastly, mix up your dressing. It is equal parts olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey (or maple syrup). Add a dash of salt and pepper and pour over salad.
Toss it around. You're the boss.


And guess what?
2014 is already winning!

Yep. That will totally do.
It can be a meal. It can be a side dish. It can be your midnight snack.
For real.

Roasted Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad:
2 cups quinoa, rinsed
1 small butternut squash, peeled, sliced and diced
2/3 cup walnuts (or pecans), chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries, chopped
2/3 cup sharp cheese (Fontina, Swiss, or Blue are great choices)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup honey or real maple syrup
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all ingredients for vinaigrette in a small bowl with a fork. Set aside.

Pour 2 cups of rinsed quinoa into a large saucepan with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cover for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork. Pour into a large bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, place cubed butternut squash on a foil-lined baking sheet and rub with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until sizzling and soft to the touch. Let cool for 15 minutes. Add to the bowl of quinoa along with chopped walnuts, cranberries and cheese. Stir. Add vinaigrette and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper if needed.

This is best at room temperature but can also be served cold. Store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. Serves 6-8.

**Note: If you want to add more dressing, go for it! Cheese? Cranberries? Nuts? Add as much as you want. This recipe is more of a guideline. Spruce up your salad any way you choose! Enjoy, dear friends.