Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Style Tips from the Designer: Shoshanna's Apartment on "Girls"

I'm officially obsessed with HBO's Girls, which is saying a lot, considering I don't even have cable. (I use my boyfriend's HBO password and watch it online. Shhh.) The show is the TV equivalent of New York magazineso culturally relevant that it makes you feel both in the know ("Hey, I got that reference!") and utterly out of touch ("People do that?!). 

       It's not just culturally that Girls is spot-on. The girls' apartments are the quintessential digs of NYC young professionals: small, air conditioner in the window, unmade bed, packed with a mish-mash of books, quirky accessories, and vintage/odd/IKEA furniture. It's real, not some Photoshopped version of reality, which, apparently, is all part of creator Lena Dunham's plan to position herself as "the voice of a generation." She reportedly refused HBO's larger sets because she wanted her characters to live in realistic apartments. As she said in a recent interview, "I love [New Girl], by the way, but every week there's a new room I didn't know was there!" She wanted her show to be different.

       Take, for example, Shoshanna's apartment (my personal favorite). Her bedroom, living room, and craft area are the same room. Her style isn't aspirational: Anybody, even studio dwellers, can easily imitate her playful, not too matchy-matchy approach to decorating. "The inspiration was really the character herself," says Laura Ballinger Gardner, the production designer for Girls. "Shosh knows what the current trends are, but not quite how to implement them. We referenced Apartment Therapy, DesignSponge, and The Selby." You, however, can stealand perfectly implementher favorite trends...


       Gardner and Rich Devine, the set decorator, shopped at West Elm, Koch Antiques in Manhattan, Jonathan Adler, and IKEA to outfit Shoshanna's apartment. If you're going to invest in just one piece, make it the black-and-white West Elm couch (previously featured here). "Isn't the couch the thing you agonize over most?" says Gardner. "This one has a nice graphic print that I loved. Feminine but still graphic. We knew there would be a few juicy scenes on it." 


       The defining design element in the craft area is also the easiest to recreate: the Christmas lights shaped in a heart above her desk. "She is a romantic college student!" says Gardner of her decision to hang the lights. 


      Shoshanna's kitchen has been transformed into a dressing room, which helps explain the boudoir style of the space. Dressing room or not, I love bringing feminine details into the kitchen. (I have a pink mixer, measuring cups, utensils, etc.) Color is the easiest way to personalize a kitchen, especially in an apartment, where you're confined by the preexisting cabinets and countertops.


If you want to recreate Shoshanna's foyer area, you'll have to get crafty. According to Gardner, the dresser was a DIY project, made from printed contact paper, "because Shosh is very crafty." (You can also adhere scrapbook paper to the surface with Mod Podge.) This gives the space a custom feel, which you can also achieve by switching out your dresser knobs for some that are more playful or stylish. 

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Inside My Apartment: The Bedroom

I'm not afraid of color. In fact, as a general rule, I dislike white walls. However, I wanted my bedroom to feel like a relaxing escape, and white walls, when paired with white bedding, have a soothing, spa-like appeal. I left the paint color untouched, but to break up the monotony (and in homage to my profession), hung pages from a 1954 dictionary on the wall behind my bed. Then, I incorporated cool-colored accents throughout the space: green crystals hanging from the candelabra over my bed, a green coral accent pillow on my bed, turquoise cut glass candle holders, and a green patterned chair.  

My bedroom, annotated. (Click on the images to make them large.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lemon Cream Butter Cake

As I've previously disclosed, I have a problem with lemon squares. My self-control is completely non-existent, which means I not only end up with powdered sugar all over my shirt, but may no longer fit into said shirt. Despite my reservations, I caved to the call of a lemon cream butter cake recipe I found on Pinterest. A few weeks ago, I made Momofuku's butter cake, but in a tragic turn of events, it collapsed. (I blame my ancient gas stove's lack of a thermometer.) Although it was too hideous to blog about, it was delicious enough for me to devour. I simply HAD to make the lemon version.

The lemon butter cake isn't quite as addictive as Momofuku's butter cake (probably a good thing), perhaps because it requires only about a quarter of the butter. Less intense than most butter cakes, it tastes like a cross between lemon cake and cheesecake. The texture is dense, but it doesn't weigh down the fresh citrus flavor. As my coworker described it, "Indulgent as cake, sinful-feeling as cheesecake, but lightened and brightened by the lemon." 

Lemon Cream Butter Cake
From Blackjack Bakehouse

2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs
2 Tbsp lemon juice
Zest of two lemons

8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp vanilla
Zest of ½ lemon
1 cup powdered sugar

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to  325°F. Grease a 9" springform pan. 
  2. Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the melted butter, eggs, lemon juice, and zest, and stir until just combined. (Do not overmix.)
  3. Pour the batter into the springform pan. Set aside.
  4. Make the filling: Beat the cream cheese on medium-high until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the powdered sugar, and beat until combined. Add the butter, lemon extract, and vanilla, and beat until combined.
  5. Pour the cream-cheese filling over the cake batter, leaving about ½" of the cake batter exposed around the edges. 
  6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the edges of the cake are puffed up and a toothpick poked into the edge comes out clean. 
  7. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool for an hour. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Peanut Butter Brownies with Chocolate Ganache

Are you tired of peanut butter yet? Because I'm not. I've nearly worked my way through all 12 jars of my Peanut Butter & Co. peanut butter freebies. In fact, to plow through the PB, I've made peanut butter pie parfaits, Elvis whoopie pies, and triple chocolate peanut butter bars, and eaten peanut butter every single morning for breakfast. (My current obsession is a mix of crunchy and dark chocolate peanut butter swirled on an English muffin.) 

       I was committed to trying something new—I have three lemons in my fridge, I promise—but then it was my boyfriend's father's birthday. And he loves peanut-butter desserts.  So, sorry, another peanut-butter recipe. But don't hate me for being boring, because the outcome was, as all things peanut butter are, delicious. 

       The layer of ganache is rich and slightly bitter, sort of like dark chocolate, while the brownie has a robust, nutty flavor that is unfortunately rare among peanut-butter desserts.  Too often, they're only mildly nutty, so the peanut butter seems like an afterthought. But, with these brownies, the peanut-butter flavor is strong and undiluted, providing a creamy contrast to the chocolate's depth and intensity.

Peanut Butter Brownies with Chocolate Ganache
From Gourmet via SmittenKitchen.com

What you need

2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
¾ cups sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla 
2 cups flour
½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
½ tsp salt

½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened

Put it all together
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9X13" baking pan.
  2. Make the brownies: Beat together butter and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, then add peanut butter, beating until well incorporated. Mix in the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in the flour until just combined.
  3. Fold in the chocolate chips (1 ½ cups), then pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Smooth the top with a spatula.
  4. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  5. Cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack, about ½ hours.
  6. Make the ganache: Bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan, and pour it over the  chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl. Let stand for 1 minute.
  7. Gently whisk in the butter, until both the butter and chocolate are melted.
  8. Spread ganache on cooled brownies. Let stand until set, about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Triple Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Boredom doesn't bode well with me. I don't have cable (weird, I know), and my (stolen) internet connection tends to be spotty. So, instead of binging on Hulu, I dig through my pantry, mix random ingredients, and pray the resulting creation doesn't explode in my oven. I've had a few failures: collapsed butter cake, delicious dough that turned into disgusting cookies, a pie that overflowed into a goopy mess. But my latest experiment was a sweet success: I constructed a three-layer bar from a tongue-teasing, sweet-and-salty combination of peanut butter, white, dark, and milk chocolates, graham cracker crumbs, and nuts. In other words, ingredients that guarantee eat-the-entire-pan results. 

 Triple Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

What you need

Bottom layer
1 cup butter, melted
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup Peanut Butter & Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams 

Middle layer
5 oz. white chocolate
¼ cup salted peanut halves
¼ cup Peanut Butter & Co. White Chocolate Wonderful

Top layer
1 ½ cups milk chocolate chips
¼ cup creamy peanut butter 

Put it all together
  1. Make the bottom layer: In a large bowl, combine the melted butter, graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar, and dark chocolate peanut butter. Press into an ungreased 9x13 baking pan.
  2. Make the middle layer: Place the white chocolate and white chocolate peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about 1 minute (or until melted), stirring every 30 seconds. Pour over the bottom layer, and spread evenly with a spatula. Place in the freezer for about 20 minutes, or until chocolate has hardened.
  3. Make the top layer: Place the milk chocolate chips and peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about 1 minute (or until melted), stirring every 30 seconds. Pour over the hardened middle layer, and spread evenly with a spatula. Place in the refrigerator for an hour before serving. 
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Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Best Bakeries in Los Angeles

Last weekend, I flew out to California to visit my best friend, Alicia, with plans to lay out, veg out, and dine out. But, then, she unexpectedly had to work on Sunday, which left her hubs with the job of babysitting me. Like me, he's a dessert addict, but because of Alicia's opposition to sugar, he suppresses his love of sweets. He rebelled. We took a tour of the best bakeries in Los Angeles—and ate multiple treats at every one. 

Porto's Bakery & Cafe in Glendale
We began our journey at Porto's Cafe, a Cuban bakery and sandwich shop—by far the cheapest of our stops. Our first pick was a Blueberry Yogurt Cupcake. Unfortunately, the presentation was the best part. The blueberry flavor was disappointingly mild, and the cake just tasted like normal yellow cake. 

Next up was the Cheese Roll, a flaky Cuban pastry that was absolutely delicious. (The filling was cheese like you'd find in a cheese danish, not the kind on a sandwich.) And it only cost $.70. Amazing.

We saved the best for last: Oreo Cheesecake. Creamy, sufficiently cookie-filled, and perfectly dense.

Next stop: Susina Bakery & Cafe. Warning: If you go here, ask the prices before making a purchase. The desserts are expensive! 

We started with Susina's signature cake, the Berry Blossom. The menu description made it sound delicious...

Three layers of vanilla sponge cake brushed with orange liquer, filled with white chocolate mousse and fresh berries. Decorated with crumbled meringue and white chocolate shavings. 

Sadly, this was another disappointment. The orange liquer was undetectable. The too-sweet mousse drowned out the berries. It just tasted like a heap of sugar. Not a Berry Blossom, whatever that means. And it cost me a small fortune. 

Don't be fooled by the appearance of decadence.
Source: Hisstyley.com
Next was the Apple Pie. Although equally expensive, this buttery, cinnamon- and sugar-coated baby was well worth the money. It was similar to traditional apple crumble, one of my favorite desserts, but with a more shortbread-like crust.

Source: brian1.net
We wrapped up our day of gluttony at Sprinkles Cupcakes, just off of Rodeo Drive. 

First up was the Carrot Cake Cupcake. I very nearly housed it in three bites. It was that good. The cake was moist, and the portion of icing was generous...exactly what I like in my cupcakes. 

Next up: Red Velvet Cupcake. Not bad, not amazing.

We finished with the Chocolate Marshmallow Cupcake. The frosting, made from dark chocolate, was a little too bitter for my sensitive sweet tooth. The marshmallow filling, however, was quite delightful, since I am a fan of sugar whipped into a fluffy frenzy. 

It was hard work finding the filling!