In the Box

After watching a Bellabeat Leaf promo video a few months ago, I knew I had to have one!! The smartest piece of jewelry I’d ever own? The first wearable designed with women in mind? I was definitely supporting that! I immediately put in my preorder and have been anxiously awaiting my Leaf since then. Well, today my wait was over and I wanted to share with you what was in the box!
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Cherry Pie Header

It’s early July and that means cherry picking up here in Western New York. After going cherry picking for the first time last year, I was blown away by the flavor packed into those fresh cherries! It is shocking what a difference it makes to pick your food straight form the source.

When you come home with sixteen pounds of cherries, though, you can’t possibly expect to eat them all raw and in our house that can only mean one thing: it’s time to make pie!  And make pie we did. Four full size and fourteen mini pies this week alone. So you can trust me when I say this is THE recipe. And not to fear – we obviously can’t always get fresh cherries from the farm. This recipe is still amazing with frozen cherries!

For some reason, I have never quite come around to making my own pie crusts. I know what I am going to get with Pillsbury, and what I am going to get is a perfect and delicious crust! I will admit, a goal of mine is to make my own perfect crust, but that will have to wait for another day…

This pie varies from your standard cherry pie in two primary ways. First, it uses 1/2 brown sugar and 1/2 regular white sugar, giving it a richer flavor. Second, building on that flavor, is the addition of your “fall” spices: primarily cinnamon, but also a bit of mace and nutmeg, too. Why? Because it is delicious! Try it once and I bet you’ll try it again.

mini pies

Note on mini pies: Whew!! I thought it would be fun to make mini pie for a (Rolling Stones concert) tailgate. Well, it wasn’t! And let me save you some trouble – just don’t even THINK about trying to make a miniature lattice top. It will take forever and come out looking like frankenstein! I mean SCARY! But, if you simplify it a bit, and find the right size round cutters in your kitchen (Pyrex lid is a legitimate crust cutter, right?), then by all means – this was a treat that pleased! The half of them that were presentable enough to share were a hit!

Cherry Pie with a Hint of Cinnamon

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 box Pillsbury pie crust (2 crusts) or homemade crust of your choosing
  • 4-5 cups pitted tart cherries (or a mix of tart and sweet)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of mace
  • 1/4 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon of butter
  • egg white (to brush crust)

Directions

  1. Set out pie crusts to allow them to come to room temperature.
  2. Heat cherries over medium heat in covered saucepan until the bottom of the pan is filling with their juice.
  3. Meanwhile, mix brown sugar, white sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mace in a separate bowl. Add this mixture to the cherries and mix well.
  4. Add vanilla extract to heating cherries.
  5. Cook over low heat. Stir frequently. Continue cooking until the cherry mixture has thickened up a bit.
  6. Remove mixture from heat and let cool.
  7. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (F).
  8. Line bottom of pan with crust.  Pour in cherry mixture.
  9. Place pats of butter on top of the cherry mixture.
  10. Add top crust.  Cut slits in top of crust for steam to escape if using crust whole. Fold over edges or use fork to create edge.
  11. Brush crust with egg white. Sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
  12. Bake for 50 minutes.

userexpectations.com

Recipe: Mom’s Apple Pie
Time: 1.5 hours
Expectations: Always a winner

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Since I can remember, my Mom has made a killer apple pie.  You know, its one of those pages in the recipe book that is barely legible anymore because of all of the kitchen use.  This recipe is adapted from a very old Betty Crocker cookbook.

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I love going to an orchard and picking apples for the pie.  They add such a lovely flavor and sense of accomplishment.  However, this recipe is still wonderful with store bought apples.  I like to use a variety of apples for textural variety and increased flavor.  You can increase or decrease the amount of sugar, depending on the sweetness of your apples.

After the first time we went apple picking, we knew we had to get an apple peeler/slicer.  It really is a game changer.  It significantly reduces the time commitment of preparing an apple pie and, let’s be real, it is so much fun to use!!!  Which is of course, the number one most important thing in the kitchen for me.  We got a clamp base peeler on Amazon for around $20 – you can also get it with a suction cup base, if that is your preference.  Even if you aren’t making apple based food on the regular, the peeler can be used for potatoes, too.

For simplicity and consistency, I use Pillsbury Pie Crusts.  These are in the refrigerated section of the store.  I always know my pie crust will turn out beautifully when I use these crusts.  Some day I might get around to making my own crust.  I like to do a lattice top because it is simple to execute and brings a “wow” factor to the finished pie.

Non-Latticed Top : Still beautiful!

Non-Latticed Top : Still beautiful!

How to lattice:  I recommend you watch a quick youtube video to get the gist.  Lightly flour your countertop and lay the pie crust flat.  Use a sharp knife to cut the crust into equally sized strips (apprx 1/2″ thick).  Pick every other strip and lay it on top of your pie, equally spaced.  Then, take every other strip and fold it back, half way across the pie.  Place a strip perpendicularly across the pie, approximately across the middle.  Unfold the folded strips, creating a “weave”.  Continue the same, folding back alternating strips until you have added all of the strips to the pie.

Mom's Apple Pie

  • Servings: 8+
  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Medium
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Ingredients

  • 1 box Pillsbury pie crust (2 crusts) or homemade crust of your choosing
  • 8-10 apples, a variety if you please
  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3/4c brown sugar
  • 1/4c white sugar
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon peel
  • 1-2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp mace
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1-2 tsp cornstarch, optional
  • 5 tbsp butter, softened
  • 2-3 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg white

Directions

  1. Set out pie crusts to warm up a bit.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F).
  3. Core, peel, and slice apples.  Thickness is to personal taste (certainly under 1/2 inch so it will cook enough).  Place apple slices into a large bowl and add lemon juice.  Mix the apples and lemon juice gently with your hands.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix flour, sugars, lemon peel, cinnamon, mace, and nutmeg.  I like to add a bit of cornstarch to this mixture to help make the pie more “slicable” (without all of the filling oozing out of the slice).
  5. Slowly add the flour/sugar mixture to the apples and mix with hands.
  6. Unroll the first pie crust and slowly shake it out.  Hold one edge of the crust with your hands and let it stretch down a bit – continue rotating around the crust to let it stretch in each direction.  Then, line the pie pan with the crust, creating the bottom crust, with the edges gently overhanging the pie pan.
  7. Pour the apple mixture over the bottom crust.  For a “window sill” pie, leave the apple mound just a bit higher in the middle of the crust.  This will create a gentle slope.
  8. Sprinkle the vanilla extract over the apples.
  9. Slice the butter into smaller pieces and lay the over the apples evenly around the pie.
  10. Gently add the top crust.  You can do this in a lattice pattern or solid.  If you do a solid piece, be sure to slice the top crust to create vents which allow steam to escape.
  11. Brush the top crust with egg whites.
  12. Create a long strip (apprx 2″ tall) of aluminum foil.  The strip should be long enough to wrap around the outside of the pie.  Wrap around the outside of the pie to cover the edges of the crust to prevent burning.
  13. Bake the pie on 425 for 40-50 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil with about 10 minutes remaining.  The pie top will be a nice golden brown and the apple mixture boiling.

userexpectations.com


Recipe: Homemade Peppermint Patties
Time: 6.5+ hours (at least for me!!)
Expectations: Delicious, Beautiful, Time Consuming

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After dinner last week, I bought one of the 25c peppermint patties on the way out of the Mexican restaurant.  It was great!  The freshness of the peppermint and the richness of the chocolate – just one delicious bite – was just perfect after my heavy dinner.  Rarely can I feel satisfied with just one bite of dessert!

The next day when it came to deciding what I would bring to the family Christmas get together, I knew I had to try to make peppermint patties.  A while back, I had pinned a “no bake” mint recipe on Pinterest and had been wanting to make it.  When it was time to make the shopping list, I decided I needed to find a chocolate coated peppermint patty recipe and looked at numerous sites before I settled on one from Brown Eyed Baker.  While I dispute her characterization of “easy”, they really are delicious!  Maybe it was just hard for me because I have never really made any sort of candy before.  By the end (of 87 peppermint patties, through multiple stages), we had it down pretty well.  (We because I had the best kitchen assistance you can ask for – Mom!)  I followed the recipe very closely, but increased the time on both the refrigeration steps.  Without the increased time, it is very very difficult.

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The peppermint inside is fairly easy to make – but thick!  You might not want to make this unless you have a Kitchenaid with a dough hook (or an arm of steel).  You toss in all of the ingredients (powdered sugar, evaporated milk, light corn syrup, coconut oil, peppermint extract) and mix.  Then, separate the dough into two approximately equal balls wrapped in saran wrap and flatten to the thickness you want for your peppermint patties (about 1/4″).

Refrigerate at least one hour and cut into the shapes you want for your patties (rounds are the most forgiving during the chocolate step).  I tried only 30 minutes in the fridge here and it did NOT work!! I ended up tossing them back in and going to dinner before trying the cookie cutters again – then it worked like a charm!  You will want to store these on saran wrap because they are STICKY STICKY STICKY!!  Parchment doesn’t cut it; parchment covered in coconut oil doesn’t cut it!

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Refrigerate over night (or at least one more hour).  When you are about ready to cover with chocolate (or about 30 minutes prior), pop the peppermint patties into the freezer – this will make the chocolate coating much easier.  Prepare a baking sheet to place the patties on after dipping them in chocolate (I used parchment sprayed with coconut oil).  Then, melt your chocolate in a double boiler.  To do this, bring water to a near boil (or light boil and turn it down) and then place a heat resistant bowl with the chocolate inside.  Do not get the water too hot!!  During the chocolate melting, I really like to coddle the chocolate, constant stirring.  Once it is fully melted, begin with a few peppermint patties (I did five at a time).  Place a peppermint filling on a fork and then dip it in the chocolate – pull it out and let the excess drip off or rub it off the bottom with the side of the bowl.  Place each piece on the prepared cookie sheet to cool at room temperature for at least an hour.  Do not worry too much if the chocolate gets a bit all over the sheet; once they are completely cooled, they will peel off pretty easily.

If you want a crumble of peppermint on top, just smash a few candy canes in a bag and sprinkle the tops immediately after dipping!

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For me, the colder I got everything (except the chocolate) the better it worked!  I popped each baking sheet into the freezer before it was used.  My Mom only pulled out 5 peppermint fillings out at a time for dipping so that they would be as cold as possible.

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Then serve!  You can also store these for a while (weeks) in the refrigerator.

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Homemade Peppermint Patties

  • Servings: 50-90 mints
  • Time: 6.5 hours, 4ish active
  • Difficulty: hard
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Ingredients

  • 7 1/2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1/3 c evaporated milk
  • 1/3 c light corn syrup
  • 3 tbsp refined coconut oil
  • 1.5 tsp peppermint extract
  • 20-24 oz dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% cocoa bittersweet and a bit of German baker’s chocolate)

Directions

  1. Sift the powdered sugar.
  2. Mix the powdered sugar, evaporated milk, corn syrup, coconut oil, and peppermint extract in an electric mixer on low.  It will turn into a pretty thick, sticky dough.
  3. Separate the peppermint dough into two equal size balls.  Place each ball between two pieces of saran and roll to approximately 1/4″ thick.  Refrigerate at least one hour.
  4. Line a baking sheet with saran to place the cut peppermint patties on (I needed two sheets).  Place the first piece of rolled peppermint dough onto the counter and remove the top piece of saran.  Use a small cookie cutter to cut into rounds (or shapes, if you’re bold!).  Place each round onto the prepared cookie sheet.  Collect scraps, roll out again, and cut into more rounds (repeat until all peppermint dough is cut into rounds).
  5. Place the baking sheet into the fridge over night (at least one hour).  When you are ready to begin the coating process, move the sheet into the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Prepare a baking sheet by covering it with parchment (to place dipped patties on).
  7. Crush candy canes in a ziplock bag to prepare topping.
  8. Melt chocolate in a double boiler (over low heat) and keep the chocolate melted in the double boiler.  Stir the chocolate regularly while melting.  I keep the chocolate on very low heat the entire time I was dipping peppermints.
  9. One round/patty at a time, dip into the chocolate using a fork.  (I like to place it in the chocolate with my hands, flip, and then pull it out with a fork).  Let excess chocolate drip off, or rub it off the bottom with the edge of the bowl.  Place each chocolate on the parchment prepared baking sheet.
  10. Cool peppermint patties at room temperature for at least 1 hour.  After fully cooled, store in refrigerator for a few weeks,

userexpectations.com; minimally adapted from Brown Eyed Baker


Recipe: Mediterranean Crescent Wreath
Time: about 30 minutes
Expectations: More than exceeded. Delicious!

Mediterranean Crescent Wreath

This weekend we had family over for a holiday get together.  It was great to have everyone into our home to enjoy good company and delicious food.  Many of our family members are vegetarian and a number of them do not eat eggs, so it is always a new adventure for me to find delicious veg/egg free food to serve.

This recipe is AMAZING!  The flavors will blow you away, the presentation is beautiful, and it is SO easy to make!  I based my crescent ring on a recipe I found on “Erica’s Recipes” with very minimal changes.  Did you even know Pillsbury Crescent Rolls were egg free?!

Mediterranean Crescent Wreath

This recipe is so simple to execute – do not think the presentation is beyond your skills!  You simply create the “wreath” using Pillsbury crescent rolls, mix together all of the ingredients in one bowl, “stuff” the wreath with the filling, wrap over the ends, and bake.  I could not have been more pleased with its simplicity or flavor.

To create the wreath, prep a large cookie sheet by lightly spraying with cooking oil.  Divide your crescent rolls into the perforated triangles.  Lay the triangles in a circle on the baking sheet, with the short triangle ends creating the inner circle.  Each triangle should slightly overlap the previous one.  It should look like a large star!!

If you have never worked with frozen spinach before, the key is to squeeze out as much water as possible.  You will find it in the frozen vegetables and it comes in a cube.  Be sure to lay it out a couple hours before you intend to use it so it can thaw.  Once it is fully thawed (or mostly thawed if you didn’t set it out early enough, like me!), take the spinach in your hands over the sink and squeeze as hard as you can a few times.  I like to wrap it in paper towels for another squeeze or two.  Then, toss it on a cutting board and chop through it a few times to make sure the bites won’t be too big.

Mediterranean Crescent Wreath

 

I used as many fresh ingredients as possible, but if you have pre-shredded mozzarella or parm cheese at home – go for it!  I am a big proponent of using what you have on hand and I am sure the flavors would be just as delicious.

Mediterranean Crescent Wreath with Feta, Mozzarella, Spinach, and Artichokes

  • Servings: 15ish
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 10oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 12oz jar artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 8oz fresh mozzarella, chopped
  • 1/2c garlic and herb flavored feta
  • 1/2c diced roasted red bell pepper
  • 1/4c chopped calamata olives
  • Fresh cracked pepper
  • 1/2c canola oil “mayo” (vegan, egg free)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 2 8oz package crescent rolls
  • 2+ tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees (F).
  2. Prepare a large baking sheet by spraying it with cooking spray (I prefer the spray coconut oil).  Unroll crescent roll dough and separate into triangles.  Lay the dough triangles in a circle, with the shortest triangle edges towards the center, slightly overlapping each other.  It should look like a large star!
  3. In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients except the Parmigiano-Reggiano.  That means the: spinach, artichoke, mozzarella, garlic, feta, roasted bell peppers, olices, pepper, canola oil mayo, garlic, and dill.
  4. Use a spoon to transfer the mixture onto the crescent wreath, towards the middle.  Create a large mound atop the crescent rolls all the way around the wreath.
  5. Fold the triangle ends over the mound towards the center.
  6. Sprinkle Parmigiano-Reggiano atop the wreath.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes (the wreath should appear lightly to moderately browned and the filling should be heated through).  Pull it out of the oven to impress your guests! Cut with a sharp knife and serve.

userexpectations.com; minimally adapted from Erica’s Recipes


 

Item: Blank Label Gift Card
Cost: Shirts from $60
Expectations: More than exceeded

My boyfriend’s brother is graduating from UPenn this year and will be off to med school in the fall. I had been trying to think of an awesome and stylish gift to get him- I considered a hip JCrew Timex style watch, waxed canvas messengers, etc etc. Finally, one day I was sitting there and I remembered that at some point I had seen some “custom shirt” sites- I went online to search and was so excited to find Blank Label: a stylish and “affordable” site for custom shirts. I immediately knew this would be the perfect gift.

A quick call to the boyfriend and it was settled- we ordered a gift card that morning. I told him I would get a measuring tape to pack inside the box with it to make it a little bit more fun for opening- little did I know the amazing gift box that would arrive in just a couple days. The attention to detail that the company paid to the gift card has me dying of anticipation to see the shirts that come out of it!

When we received the box we were stunned: Blank Label certainly had sent the best gift card presentation we had ever seen!

When we opened the box there were instruction cards, over 15 fabric samples, a measuring tape, and a gift card in a wax sealed envelope: classy!

Equally exciting is the awesome product he gets two make: customized shirts for HIS body. Shirts too short? Sleeves too long? Waist too billowy? Weird pattern? Hopefully not with Blank Label. He will get to pick from tons of patterns and styles (who knew there were so many collar types!). Down to the button, the shirt will be made for him.

Hopefully this has given you a helpful gift idea for your grads! Happy looking!

Please note: I have been in no way compensated by Blank Label for this post. I just found the product to be awesome and wanted to share!

Project: Star Wars Baby Shower Decorations (Cut Outs)
Time: Weekend Project
Cost: under $10

It can be done! Above is the top half~ish of the invitations I sent for my sister’s baby shower. She LOVES Star Wars and I wanted to try to incorporate that into the event. My theory? If it looks miniature and is in pastel, obviously that means its for babies! I found some great images of miniature looking characters from robotrobotROBOT (awesome art, check it out!) and used Illustrator to eliminate the color and turn them into vectors. {NB: Before using & sharing these characters, I asked for his permission.} I had never used Illustrator before and basically just clicked buttons until I got what I wanted. Then, I was able to change the color of the vectors endlessly and resize them (even to very very large) without losing quality.

The idea was this: make the invitation and matching poster size cutouts of the characters to use as decoration. Below, you will see a step by step of how I made the poster size characters!

First, I purchased poster size pastel paper at Sam Flax. Then, I moved our projector to point at the wall near the floor (so that I could sit down while doing this) and hooked up my laptop to put the images on it. Next, I taped the poster to the wall where the image was being projected (sorry for blurry picture:)

Then, I got down there and began tracing the character. As you can see above, I thickened the lines of the vector: this is because I planned on using a white poster as the background for the paper cutouts and wanted it to be generally the correct shape. In the photo below, you can see how I traced the lines in an easy to see color (the actual side that people will see is the other side, this side gets glued down).

Then, I stuck a piece of white poster on the wall and did a quick outline of the wider lines.

Now, I was ready to do the hard part and, because I was not thinking, there are no pictures. I took an exacto knife and cut out each piece. The white poster board is no problem- quick line and done! The colorful posters were quite tedious, you have to cut on both sides of the line and remember which pieces are going where.

Finally, I glued the colorful poster cutouts onto the white poster and “Poof!” the cutest Star Wars cutouts ever. I thought it was pretty awesome to have the whole outline be a single line (all connected); while it was fairly difficult (in that I was crouched over them cutting the large piece out for what may have been hours), it was worth it. I was really happy with the results and the mom-to-be even took them home to hang in the nursery!