Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cream Cheese Filled Chocolate Cupcakes

My latest venture: filled cupcakes.  I have never attempted this before . . . but with Tristan's birthday celebration approaching I decided to give it a try.  The result: some pretty tasty cupcakes!!

(Light) Chocolate Cupcakes
- adapted from Cooking Light magazine

1 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Light
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 350.  In a large mixing bowl, blend together brown sugar and butter on medium speed for about 2 minutes (or until combined).  Add eggs one at a time, blending well after each one.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Slowly add flour mixture to the large bowl containing the sugar mixture, alternating with the buttermilk.  You should start and end with the flour mixture.  Lastly, add vanilla extract.

Fill cupcake liners 1/2 - 2/3 way full and bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of cupcakes comes out clean.  Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Cream Cheese Filling

8 oz. fat-free cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 low-fat milk
1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine cream cheese and powdered sugar using handheld or standing mixer.  Once thoroughly combined, add milk and vanilla.  Texture should be smooth and creamy.

To fill cupcakes, cut a cone shaped hole out of the center of the the cupcake using a paring or other small sharp knife.

Do not toss out the pieces that you cut out.  You will still need them after filing the cupcakes.

Fill either a piping bag or Ziploc with the cream cheese filling.  I just used a Ziploc and it worked great.  After cutting a small whole in one corner of the bag, slowly fill the holes you cut in the cupcakes. 

Try not to fill the cupcakes all the way to the top, or the filling will end up squeezing out when you replace the top like this:
Once you have filled all of the cupcakes, cut the cone off of the chunk that you cut out so that you have a round, flat piece to plug the top.

Buttercream Frosting

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (not melted)
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2-4 tablespoons low-fat milk
1 tablespoon vanilla

Warning: for this frosting, be sure to use real butter.  I tried substituting the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" the first time around and it did not work.

Cream the butter until smooth before adding the powdered sugar.  Be sure to keep your mixer on low when adding the powdered sugar, or it will make a HUGE mess!!  You can start with 3 cups of powdered sugar and 2 tablespoons of milk.  Then, add additional powdered sugar or milk to thicken or thin it out to your liking.  I used 4 cups of sugar and 2 tablespoons of milk for a fairly thick, stiff frosting.

The frosting with have a creamy, off-white color following this recipe.  I knew I wanted a blue frosting so I just added a few drops of blue and green food coloring until I got the color I wanted.  You can either using a piping bag to decorate the tops of the cupcakes, or just spread the frosting with a spatula.  I have a cookie press that has frosting tips so that was my choice for applying the frosting. 

You will want to keep this in an airtight container.  I also keep mine refrigerated, but it probably isn't necessary.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Doing some revamping (part 3)

Finally: the last part of this little mini-series!  I have been trying to juggle this and my other blog I recently started, in addition to all of the other tasks that come up throughout the day.  My Mind's Lens focuses on my recent ventures into photography.  I am hoping to showcase some of my work, as well as hopefully provide some tips, suggestions, and inspiration.

To complete my most recent mantel, I revamped a cheap vase I had in the closet.  I have a tendency of picking up vases at the Dollar Store or Ikea.  The result - a variety of vases filling my storage closet, half of which are very similar or even identical.  So I decided to use one of the vases that I had doubles of and give it a little facelift!

All you need for this project is a vase, some jute and a hot glue gun.  The jute I used was the natural colored 0.45 lb weight.  You can use various colors or weights to create your own style.

This was a little bit time consuming, but really easy and the end result was well worth it.  It is the type of thing that you can sit down with a glass of wine, turn on a movie, and your hands kind of fine their way while you relax!

I started at the bottom of the vase with a dot of hot glue.  After attaching the end of the jute, I wrapped it around the vase, making sure to keep it tight as I wrapped it around, as well as keeping each new loop around the vase as close to the lower one as possible.  You want to cover as much of the vase as possible.

For the most part, this really doesn't take much glue.  I would use a dot of hot glue just every so often - maybe every 5-10 rows.  Once you get to the top, just tuck the end a little bit and use a final dab of glue.  Here is the end result:
To finish it off, I tossed a fabric flower in the vase.  It really pulled everything together!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Doing some revamping (part 2)

After seeing many many DIY projects that people have posted on blogs and Pinterest where they have "revamped" old picture frames, I wanted to try something for myself.  I ventured to Goodwill to try to find a cheap old frame that I could fix up.  At first I was disappointed to not find what I was looking for.  But then I found this:

This mirror was only $10 and the glass itself was in perfect shape.  The other supplies I needed to pick up were some sand paper, my paint choices, and some crackle medium (you can find this with the acrylic paint).  You will want to pick two paint colors that are contrasting for this to work right.

To start, I removed the glass so I just had the empty frame and  sanded off as much of the old paint as I could.  Because there were a lot of ridges in the frame, it was hard to get all of it off, but that was fine.  Once it was sanded down and the dust wiped off, I started with the paint.  My first paint was a brick red acrylic.  You will want a really solid base coat - so I did two layers, letting it dry in between.

After the base coat was completely dried, I applied the crackle medium.  This will help the top layer to crackle when applied, allowing the base coat to break through.  Once the crackle medium was dried, I applied the contrasting color.  You only want to put down a real thin layer for this to work.  I didn't even completely cover the base with my gray top coat.  If the crackle medium doesn't let as much of the base color through as you would like, you can gently sand it down a little more until it is to your liking.

This is a small portion of the finished product.  Once the frame was completely dry, I replaced the glass and here is what it looks like now:


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Doing some revamping (part 1)

As promised, here is my refreshed mantel.  It gets moved around a little every couple of days as I think of different arrangements to try.  But hidden here are a few of my latest projects. 

For these projects, I tried to minimize the additional supplies I would need to purchase and mostly tried to find things around the house to use.  I think the most that I spent on the three projects combined was probably roughly $20.

I am going to work backwards a little bit and start with the most recent: the burst of wine corks.  Now, I have to admit, I haven't quite completed it yet.  In my china cabinet is a vase that holds all of the wine corks that have been popped in our house.  It looked like a lot to me, but it turns out it wasn't quite enough.  I will have to slowly add to it as our collection is regrown.

For this project, you will need a hot glue gun, a fairly sharp knife, a 2 1/2 inch Styrofoam ball, and based on my progress so far roughly 60-70 wine corks.

To start the base, simply glue the corks to the ball as close together as possible.  I quickly found that because of the angles that were created as I glued the corks around the edges of the ball, there were large gaps that would need to be filled in.  This is where the knife comes in.

You will need to cut angles into some of the corks in order to get them to fit in between the base layer.   For me, every cut was different - I tried to stagger the heights a little just to give it more texture. 

It seemed to work best to do small sections at a time.  I just did little patches of the base, filled it in, then moved on to the next section.  I tried to make each section look original by mixing up the brands, using various heights and alternating between which end of the cork was sticking out.  I also threw in a couple of champagne corks for fun.

Here is a close up of what mine looks like at this point:

If anyone comes up with any twists on this - I would love for you to share!!

The Calm After the Storm

Well it has been awhile!  A couple of months to be exact.  After practically living in my office for weeks on end while tax season was in full swing, I just did not have the energy to start writing again.  I think that after a little break, I am ready now, though.  I did have time during my little sabbatical to work on a few projects that are soon to come.

The thing I have been focusing on lately, though, is developing my photography skills.  I was fortunate to be able to attend a photography seminar at the end of April where they went into a lot of detail about utilizing manual mode on your camera and how the different settings work together to get the right exposure in your pictures.  It has been so much fun to experiment with the different settings and go out to try to find new subjects to work with.

So far, I have been focusing on aspects of nature, as well as older buildings, in my photos.  Eventually, I may venture into portrait photography as well.  As part of the class I attended, I received some free prints from an online business called One Click Pix.  Little did I know, they run a monthly photo contest where their employees pick a few pictures from the ones that are submitted for printing and post them on their website.  People then go online and can vote on the selected photos.  I was surprised to receive an email from the organization asking if they could include this photo in the contest. 

If you click on the following link, you can vote for my photo:!prettyPhoto

The winning photo will be featured on the organization's home page for the remainder of the month.  Whether or not my photo wins, I am pretty excited to just get my work out there.

The prints from One Click Pix were really great quality.  Their prices are decent and they have a ton of different products to choose from, in addition to all the standard prints that you can get elsewhere.  Anything from prints on canvas to collages to white erase boards with your photo as the background are available.  They are pretty fast too.  I had my photos in less than a week from when I ordered.  They just might be my new first choice for prints!

If you are interested in enhancing your photography skills, Aimee at It's Overflowing has some great tutorials on photography and getting the most out of your pictures.  I would definitely encourage you to go check out some of her articles:

Soon to come - my redesigned mantel and some fun and easy craft ideas to spruce up items you may already have around the house.

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