Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Two Words: CAKE BALLS!

Oh my goodness, did I learn a lot about cake balls last week. I have actually been waiting anxiously all week long to blog about this because there are so many things I want to share!

It all started with a article I came across on Paula Deen's favorite ways to make cake balls. The recipe for cake balls is so easy, I walked away feeling so confident that I was going to make the greatest cake balls ever and they were going to LOOK good too! I had all these flavors in mind and color combinations with fun toppings. HA! Little did I know I had a disaster in store...

For those of you who don't know, a basic cake ball is made of a box of pre-made cake mix (baked and then crumbled into a bowl) mixed with cream cheese or cream cheese frosting. Then you roll the ball in melted chocolate. Simple. Then I had read you can use sugar cookie batter as well. So immediately my mind started racing. What combination did I want to make? I first settled on Red Velvet cake balls because I knew my husband and sister would love those. Then I wanted to make something different for myself. I love lemony desserts so I thought why not use sugar cookie batter with a little lemon/lime zest and juice to make Key Lime cake balls. I then played with what colors and toppings I would give them. I wanted the Red Velvet to have a fun color on the outside so I thought I would color the white chocolate "Tiffany Blue" for those and then for the Key Lime Pie ones I would just use white chocolate with a yellow icing drizzle. Ok, so that was settled.

Then began the process of making the cake balls. It is really simple, yet a little time consuming. After you bake the cake, you allow it to cool at room temperature, crumble into a bowl, and then add a can of cream cheese frosting. Mix it all together and then you have to refrigerate for 3-4 hours. I did the same for the sugar cookie batter. I baked it in a baking dish and then crumbled it into a bowl. I added the zest (shavings from the skin) and juice of one lemon and one lime as well as the cream cheese frosting and mixed it all together. It also then went into the fridge.

Ok so the "easy" part was over. I waited til the next day to finish the cake balls. I removed the mixes from the fridge and used a small ice cream scoop to make little 2" balls. I rolled them in my hands to get a more round ball and then placed them on parchment/wax paper, on a cookie sheet. After that I put them back in the fridge while I went to melt my chocolate.

This is where it all went to crap! I began by melting the bag of Hershey's white chocolate chips I already had in the pantry. I put my glass bowl of chips over a pot of simmering water and waited for it to melt. When it was ready, I used a few drops of blue food coloring to get the color "Tiffany Blue". As I began to stir, the chocolate was getting harder and harder and after a few minutes it started to curdle. It was so gross and I had no idea what I did wrong! So I thought "ok Jennifer, try it again". I started over and this time used some heavy cream (I had done this before when melting chocolate), thinking it would make the mixture creamier. I waited until it was melted and added a few drops of food coloring, started to stir, and AGAIN it curdled into a blue chunky mess!!! At this point I was pissed and started shouting curse words in the kitchen while my husband looked at me like I was crazy. LOL.

This is when I got online and used trusty 'ol Google! I typed in, 'why does my white chocolate curdle when I add food coloring?' And you wouldn't believe how many responses from frantic, pissed, and confused women came up!! Guess I wasn't the only one! I soon found out that when coloring chocolate you have to use an OIL based food coloring. I immediately checked the box of cheap food coloring I had...first ingredient...WATER! There was my problem!

I thought OK, I will just go to the store and buy OIL based food biggie...right?!

WRONG! I went to 3 grocery stores and looked at over 10 different brands of food coloring only to find that every box and bottle in those stores had a WATER base! You have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! I ended up leaving the store with a brick of white chocolate melting candy (found in the baking isle) so I could at least finish my cake balls with plain WHITE chocolate. I felt so defeated.

I even got online when I got home to find out where the heck this OIL based food coloring was sold. So many websites had it for sale. And it was cheap too! $4 a box! But I couldn't wait for an order to be shipped to me. So I continued on with my plain white chocolate.

By the way, the white chocolate melting candy melts WAY better than Hershey's chocolate so I recommend using that instead. Needless to say this simple dessert turned out to be a big headache, but I learned so much in the process and I hope by sharing this today it will save all of you the same heartache.

I finished by rolling my cake balls in the chocolate, adding some icing and sprinkles and voila! They tasted great and I guess that's the most important part. The Key Lime cake balls turned out AMAZING! It made me even more curious about how many other cake ball flavors I could come up with, but I think I'll take a break from cake balls for a while. This was a little traumatic!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Decorating 101

Ok so seriously if there was a school that offered Christmas Decorating 101, I would be the first in line to teach it! I absolutely LOVE Christmas time...and even that is probably an understatement. I look forward to this season all year long. A few years ago I was even hired as a Seasonal Stylist for all Macy's locations in the Dallas Metroplex. I worked for over 12 stores and got to decorate 15 trees per store! Talk about a Christmas dream!

My tradition is to decorate the house the day after Thanksgiving. So over the weekend I worked on decorating for Christmas and in the process I thought I should blog about the steps I take to make it all come together beautifully!

I begin by shopping around for inspiration. There is a beautiful store here in Dallas called the Decorators Warehouse. It is filled with the most beautifully decorated trees in all styles and colors. I have about 10 Christmas bins stored away, each with a different color. Things I have collected over the past 5 years. This year, I knew I had to stick to the colors I already had being that we are a one income family now. With that said, I was inspired by a tree that was done in Green, Brown, and White. I also already had these colors stored away!
I spent the entire day Friday working on decorating the living room and it looks so warm and cozy. I love the way it turned out.

Here are some of my tips on how to decorate your home for the Holidays!

1. Choose a color combination. Try to stick to 2-3 colors.

2. Decorate your tree with the lights turned on. This way the lights become a part of the decor.

3. Put the ribbon on first! And it doesn't have to be your typical ribbon. It can be twigs (like I used this year), beads, tulle, burlap, etc. You can cheat too...if your tree is pushed up against a wall or corner, don't worry about decorating the backside. Keep it all in the front. This will save you tons of time and money!

4. Christmas Pics. No I'm not talking about photos. Pics are decorating items found at all craft stores that are normally on a stick. Feathers, beads, glittered twigs, flowers, etc. These look wonderful on the tree. They help to fill space and they give the tree an organic shape. And normally cost under a dollar!

5. Ornaments. These can be anything from balls to snowflakes to icicles to pine cones, etc. I do these last to not only fill the remaining open spaces, but also to help spread the colors around the tree. This way your eye is drawn up and down the tree.

6. Tree skirt. Don't worry about buying an expensive pre-made tree skirt. Just go to your local craft store and purchase a yard of fabric. Use this to drape around the base of your tree as the skirt. I used a yard of burlap to go with my theme this year.

6 steps doesn't seem too bad, does it?! My main advice is to plan it ahead of time. Choose your colors and theme and then shop for ribbon, pics, ornaments, and fabric. Lay it all out so you can see it all while decorating. But, most of all HAVE FUN doing it! Include your family, turn on some Christmas music, and take your time!

I also continue my theme onto my fireplace mantle. This year I went to the dollar store and bought 5 frames, spray painted them, and wrote the words in glitter paint, 'baby its cold outside'. Then I just leaned them up against the mantle. I also bought wooden letters, spray painted them and hung them with rope with each stocking to personalize them! Just another fun, inexpensive way to add a personal touch!

I hope these tips help you this season with your Holiday decorating and remember if you're in the Dallas area to call Style With Wisdom for all your Holiday decorating needs!

Monday, November 21, 2011

S'mores Cupcake Bites...No Campfire Needed!

My sweet tooth has won again. These S'mores Cupcake Bites are amazing! Those of you who know me personally know that I am not exactly the camping type. But, who needs camping and a camp fire when you can make this delicious camping favorite at home! These are so easy to make and look like you bought them from some fancy bakery! Here is the recipe for you to enjoy!

2 packages Graham Crackers (about 8 whole crackers) finely crushed

1/4 Cup Powdered Sugar

1 Stick Butter (melted)

4 Bars Hershey's Chocolate

12 Marshmallows

I used a muffin pan with 12 cups. The recipe above is for 12. Spray the muffin pan with non-stick spray. In a bowl, mix graham crackers, sugar, and butter, then press into the bottom of each muffin cup forming a crust. Bake this at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes.

Once this comes out of the oven, place one small rectangle of Hershey's Chocolate into each muffin cup followed by one marshmallow. I flattened each marshmallow just slightly between the palms of my hands before placing it in the muffin cup.

Place the muffin pan back in the oven for 2-3 minutes. Just long enough for the marshmallow to melt down a little. While this is baking, melt the remainder of your chocolate bars. To do this, I placed a glass bowl on top of a sauce pan of simmering water. Make sure that the water does not boil. You don't want the chocolate to burn. This is also why I don't just melt the chocolate in the microwave. It tends to have a burnt taste.

Pull your muffin pan out of the oven and allow to cool long enough to handle. Pop each S'mores Cupcake Bite out, CAREFULLY. Then dip the tops into the melted chocolate. Allow them to cool and the chocolate on top to harden. Then they are ready to enjoy! They only lasted a few days in my house and now you're only 5 ingredients and a few simple steps away from enjoying them too!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Keeping Things Organized on a Busy Schedule

Well my son is almost 6 months old now and I feel like I am finally getting a handle on everything. For those past 6 months I have felt as though I had to re-learn who I was, who this new "mom" version of me was. How can I be a mom, a wife, a fashionista, a business owner, and keep the house clean, do the grocery shopping, prepare meals for my family, etc. I know many of you moms out there feel this way whether you stay at home or go to work full time. It is a huge balancing act and women have been doing it for years, but we all need to find the best solution for us as individuals.

Once I felt as though I had a pretty good handle on the bigger things, I struggled with the 'keeping the house clean and organized' part. There was so much going on during the day that I could never get to the cleaning. My son would go down for bed at night and there would still be a mound of dishes in the sink and all I wanted to do was pour a glass of wine and melt into the couch.

I woke up every morning M-F at 7am saying to myself, "ok, today you need to clean the kitchen, unload the dishwasher, load the dishwasher, vacuum, mop, clean the bathroom, do a few loads of laundry...ya that should cover it" and then I would walk through another room in the house and think, " oh and dust, and clean that mirror, and clean out the microwave." All these thoughts by 7:30am and I was overwhelmed!! The next thing I knew it would be 2:00pm and all I was able to get to was unloading the dishwasher and starting one load of laundry. By 7:00pm that load of laundry was still sitting in the wash just waiting to be thrown into the dryer. The OCD in me knew I couldn't live like this for long and then it hit me, I needed a cleaning schedule.

So I planned it out to start on a Monday, yes I am one of those people who can't start anything mid-week. Whether it be a new diet, work out, cleaning schedule, etc. it has to start on Monday...LOL. Monday it was and my new cleaning schedule for the week looked like this.

Monday: Laundry (all loads of laundry must be done on Monday. Normally I do 4; darks, lights, whites, and sheets)

Tuesday: Vacuum and Mop (vacuum the entire house and mop where needed; mainly high traffic areas)

Wednesday: Bathroom (I do a quick once over on the counters, mirrors, toilet, bath, etc. Not a deep clean, but enough to make it sparkle)

Thursday: Dust (I walk the entire house and dust all surfaces)

Friday: Misc. (I normally pick something for the week that needs a deep clean or something that doesn't need a weekly cleaning such as the microwave, the ceiling fans, a messy cupboard that has been driving me nuts, etc.)

I know it looks simple. One thing per day M-F. But it works! I don't wake up feeling overwhelmed by ALL of the things I need to do that day. I have one focused goal. And after a few weeks of doing this, I started to see how clean and organized my home felt. My husband even praised me for how great the house looked all the time! It was great and I felt like I was a better mom and wife because of it. And because I didn't feel overwhelmed, I spent more time playing and teaching with my son.

This might be old news to some of you 'mom pros' out there, but it is new to me and I am sharing this in hopes that I might be helping any mom out there struggling with this.

The "Style" in Style with Wisdom isn't just about home decor and fashion, it's about creating a stylish, smart lifestyle that works for you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

DIY-Established Sign

If you read my post on DIY Art with Meaning, you know how important it is to me to have art in my home that has meaning to my family. I think this is so important for every home and it can be so inexpensive and fun to make!
I came across this piece of metal in a discount decor store on the clearance isle. TIP: I ALWAYS check the clearance isle at every store!! There was a paper banner along the front that was all torn up, but the overall shape and style of the piece looked great! I knew just by looking at the shape it would be the perfect piece to create an Established sign. I thought something like this would go great in my entry way. This way, when guests entered my home, they would see when our 'home' was established.

Here are the steps I took to get the finished product!

This is what the piece looked like before. I first began by scraping off the paper that was in the center using Goof-Off. This stuff is amazing for removing any label, sticker, tag, etc.

I decided I wanted to use more of the left over blue paint from the entry way, but I wanted it to have a warn/shabby chic look to it. So I began by painting it dark brown (more left over paint I had from the last art project). Once that was dry I gave it a coat of blue paint. When that layer was dry I began using a fine grain sanding sponge. I only rubbed over the raised areas to give it a naturally aged/warn look. I then used a stencil to trace the letters and numbers onto the metal and painted them in with a tiny paint brush and some black acrylic paint. Once again I used the sanding sponge just lightly over the letters and numbers once dry to give them a warn look as well.

And here is how it turned out! I used Est. 2006 because that is the year my husband and I were married so for me, our 'home' began then. But you could use any year. The year you bought your home, the year your first baby was born, etc. I also wanted to give it a little more interest than just hanging it on the wall, so I found an old plate stand and leaned it on that! Now it is on the main table in our entry way for all to see! I hope this helps you to continue to add 'art with meaning' into your home!

Friday, November 11, 2011

DIY-Art with Meaning

Now that the painting is all done in the entry way and I have completed decorating one of the niches, I have one more niche to decorate. The niche that is closer to the front door is about half as deep as the other one, but the same height. I knew that I couldn't use shelves in this one so I was off again on a scavenger hunt around the house to see what I could re-purpose in this new space. I always suggest to my clients to "shop" their homes first before going out and buying something new. Look for things that you might not love but they have a good shape or good lines and they just need a new coat of paint or new fabric.

I came across 2 pieces of canvas art I had hanging above my kitchen cabinets. I bought it years ago as a set from a discount decor store. But looking at them now with our new decor-style in mind, they really weren't working. So, I thought I would re-use them in the entry way niche. Canvas art can be expensive so I thought why not just repaint them to go with my new style. They were in perfect condition and they had a great square shape. Here is what they looked like before...

I started by using the left over blue paint from the entry way niches. I painted over both canvas' entirely and allowed them to dry. Then I carefully placed sticker letters on the canvas with the verse I wanted to use. I then painted over the letters with the same blue paint to seal the stickers. YOU CANNOT SKIP THIS STEP! This makes it so the paint that will seep into the unsealed edges of the sticker is the same color paint as your base.

Next I used a range of browns, blacks, and copper acrylic paints to "faux" finish the entire canvas. I used brushes and paper towels to get this effect. You really can't get this wrong because if you don't like the way it looks, you just keep painting until you get it the way you like. I finished off the art by adding a nail head detail on each corner of the canvas.

Once this is dry, you can use tweezers to carefully peel up your letters to reveal the words underneath the paint. It looks as though you had it professionally printed! You can use any size letter, font, color, etc. to make it your own! Try to think outside the box when laying your words down too. There is no rule that everything has to be aligned on the right...

I think it is so important when decorating to incorporate decor and art that has meaning to your life. Every time I walk through my entry way I briefly read this verse and it makes me smile. Not only does this quote relate to my Christian faith, but it also relates to how much I love my husband. Things like this make a home feel warm and inviting!

To complete the niche I hung the art one on top of the other and then used a tall vase with white twigs to balance the overall space. Keeping things tall and vertical draws the eye upwards! This entire project cost me only a few dollars! I love the way this turned out and I hope you can re-purpose something in your home using this lettering paint technique!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Now that I am a stay home mom, I have been experimenting in the kitchen a lot! I have always loved cooking and baking, but I have now taken it to a completely different level. I am also obsessed with sweets. I rarely have a lunch or dinner go by where I don't have something sweet afterwards. I crave chocolate by the second. With the way I eat, I really should weigh 500lbs. Recently I started a routine where I try a new "sweets" recipe once a week or so. And this week turned out to be heaven so I just had to share...

My husband's favorite thing in the whole world to have for dessert is anything with a combination of peanut butter and chocolate. I came across a recipe that inspired me to take a basic favorite, the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and make a homemade version. And as Paula Deen would say, "This is to DIE for ya'll!" I bake all the time now and everything I put chocolate in turns out to be pretty good, I mean how can you go wrong with chocolate, but this is DEVINE!

Here is the recipe after my customizations...try it and let me know what you think!

1 box chocolate cake mix
1 can cream cheese frosting
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2T sugar
3 graham crackers-crumbled
2 bags Hershey’s chocolate chips

Bake the chocolate cake according to the box directions. When its finished baking allow it to cool at room temperature for about 30min. Once cooled, transfer to a bowl and mix in can of cream cheese frosting. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. This will allow the mixture to harden just slightly.
Take a 12 cup muffin pan and line with cupcake liners. Melt 1 bag of chocolate chips either on the stove or microwave. Pour a little melted chocolate into each cupcake liner and then use the back of a spoon or pastry brush to make sure the chocolate covers the bottom of the cupcake liner and about halfway up the sides. There needs to be a good enough amount to hold in the rest of the ingredients to come…
Place this into the refrigerator for a few minutes to allow it to harden. Meanwhile mix your peanut butter, sugar, and graham crackers. Place this in the refrigerator for a few minutes.
Take your chocolate lined muffin pan out of the refrigerator as well as your cake/frosting mix. You are going to scoop a small amount of cake into each cupcake liner. A little smaller than a golf ball. Use your spoon or fingers to flatten into liner. Then remove your peanut butter mix from refrigerator and scoop a small amount of that on top of the cake in the liners. You can flatten this down a little too. Once all of your cupcake liners are filled, place them back into the refrigerator.
You will now melt the second bag of chocolate chips. Remove muffin pan from fridge and pour a small amount of chocolate over each cup creating a chocolate top. Use a spoon or spatula to make sure the chocolate covers the entire top of the cupcake liner and seals the sides.
Now you can place this back in the fridge (I know, for the hundredth time) and allow them to cool and harden. Give it about 30-60min and they will be ready for you to enjoy!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wallpaper look without the wallpaper price!

My most recent design project has taken place in my own entry way. My husband and I built our house over 3 years ago and "we", well I guess I should say "I" went CRAZY trying to decorate it as fast as "I" could. And let's just say it didn't go so well. As a designer, I can decorate ANYONE's home except my own and I appreciate all design styles so I just threw together a mix-match of styles all over the house. As my own biggest critic, I would do a project and then hate it. So, not only did I waste time, 3 years to be exact, but a lot of money as well.

About 4 months ago I had what Oprah would call an "ah-ha" moment. I finally realized that in order to love the decor in my home, my husband and I needed to decide on it together. It needed to be personal and have an overall cohesive design plan. After all, it is OUR home. So we sat down together, looked through photos, and talked about what styles we liked. During this talk I just kept thinking we have been together for almost 8 years and we are just now figuring this out!? So we came to the conclusion that our personal style was Hamptons-Transitional with a Rustic touch. We loved fresh, open, airy spaces with cool colors and a non-literal beachy feel.

After this "ah-ha", I knew it was time to get to work to make this a home that we loved. I thought the best way to do this was to start in the entry way and work from there. Here is a photo of what the entry way looked like before...

Black and silver with damask everywhere. Beautiful stuff, don't get me wrong, but definitely not our style. I cleared the room out and luckily we have a basic khaki paint in the entry way (it used to be lavender...don't ask). You can also see in the mirror reflection the damask wallpaper in the wall niche. I began by ripping that down and in the process was inspired by an article I read on painting your own wallpaper. I knew I was on a "one income family" budget and this sounded right up my alley. I am going to show you step by step what I did to get a completely custom look for the cost of a quart of paint and a small paintbrush!

Step 1: I bought a quart of light blue paint. Behr color: Contemplation. I then painted the entire niche with that color.

Step 2: I found a picture of a quatrefoil online in the size I wanted and printed it. I cut it out, and traced it onto card stock. After cutting it out of the card stock I used pencil to trace it onto the wall in the niche right on top of the blue paint. This part took a while. I would spend about 30 min at at time working on it while my son slept. Needless to say it took a few days to finish. But SO worth it!

Step 3: I poured a small amount of the blue paint I used for the wall into another container and added white paint to it. I was trying to lighten the color just enough so it would stand out from the blue wall without being too bold. I then took a small art brush and painted the lines. This also took quite a bit of time, but I love to paint. I find it so soothing. And your lines DO NOT have to be perfect. The repetition in the pattern helps to distract the eye from any little mistake. Besides, who is going to be looking at it that closely anyway? Your mom or your best friend? Maybe, but they'll be so impressed they won't care!

Step 4: This is what the overall finished pattern looks like. I love that it has the look of wallpaper, but it is also very subtle. This is a great, inexpensive way to dress up any nook or niche in your home!

Step 5: Decorate! I decided to use an unfinished 1x4 from Home Depot for shelving. My husband cut it right down the middle to make 2 shelves. I then white washed the shelves using an old can of grey paint I had lying around. All I did was add water and brushed it on until I got that beachy, grey, driftwood look. I used "L" brackets from Home Depot to secure the shelves to the wall. Then came the fun part. I just ran around the house looking for small decor items to "style" the shelves with. The artwork was just some old art I had lying around. I ripped the art out and had 2 beachy prints made at Walmart for $8!! The books are from the DOLLAR STORE! I just took the ugly plastic covers off to reveal the solid hardback of the book. ONLY $1 each!!

I absolutely love the niches now and the entryway is almost complete. Once finished I will post a before and after photo. Hopefully you can use this wallpaper paint technique in your home somewhere. Think outside the box and use any pattern/color combination you can think of!! And, if this project is a little too intimidating for you and you live in the Dallas area, you can call me to help you along the way!