Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fairies and Gnomes

Yes, I know, Halloween was totally 2+ weeks ago, but I still wanted to post the costumes we made this year in case it inspires anyone for next year!  If I wait until next year to get these posted, I'll forget entirely!! 

When I asked the clever girl what she wanted to be for Halloween this year, it took a while to convince her that Elsa (of the Frozen movie, in case you don't have a little girl running around your house) was not the best idea.  Once I explained that practically EVERY little girl was going to be Elsa this year, and wouldn't it be fun to be something DIFFERENT, she agreed and decided upon being a fairy.  I JUMPED on it.  Truly, I had to get her excited about it so she wouldn't be sad about not being Elsa!  And it worked!  She loved her fairy costume.  Once we decided that she would be a fairy, we brainstormed what the clever boy might be, and came up with a Gnome.  Love it! 

For the fairy, I didn't have to do a lot, as the main part of her costume was a dance recital costume from last summer.  I did make her a wand and her fairy wings.  

For the wand, I followed the directions on this youtube video to make a poof out of sparkly tulle and organza.  It is just like making a pompom, just on a much larger scale.  I cut a donut shape out of cardboard and then folded it in half and wrapped the pink and blue tulle/organza (holding both together) around and around the half-donut.  I wrapped a thin wooden dowel with pink ribbon and attached it to the poof with my trusty glue gun.  Then I tied some ribbon around the top under the poof just to make it extra fun.  I was so thrilled to find this tulle and organza that totally matched the dance recital outfit!  I win!  And the clever girl thought this wand was AWESOME.  She went around turning all of us into princes and princesses for days!

For the wings, I followed this instructable video.  HOWEVER, I could only find white tights, no sparkly pink or purple or blue or ANYTHING (ugh) so I used white and then painted them repeatedly with glitter paint.  And I say repeatedly because let me tell you, it was A LOT.  The thing with glitter paint is this:  It tends to be CLEAR paint with some glitter thrown in.  So if you are wanting coverage, it doesn't work so well.  I would do more searching for the right tights next time and avoid painting altogether!  Once it was fully constructed and painted, I glued sequins all over the wings in random patterns.  I thought they would provide some fun sparkle when lights hit!

Oh and that instructable video had a EXCELLENT tip for coverage under a leotard.  It happened to be cool on Halloween night, so the clever girl needed something over her arms, which a dance costume does not provide.  The idea from instructables was BRILLIANT.  Take a pair of nude tights and cut the crotch out - keeping the crotch seam IN but just cut the fabric part out of the middle.  Pull the tights over the HEAD, so the head is now going through what the crotch area used to be.  Put the arms in the tights legs and cut the tights wrist-length to make them long sleeves.  Now you have a thin nude long sleeved shirt that fits under a leotard!  Ta-da!

For the gnome, I figured he basically needed a hat, beard, belt, and blue jacket.  For the hat, I followed this AWESOME tutorial on deliacreates which uses all sorts of geometry and math to get a perfectly fitting felt cone hat.  I love the math part.  Made me think a bit and was lots of fun.  I pinched the hat together a bit on top to make it more gnome-y, and did a few stitches to hold the pinches together.

I made the beard with fur from the craft store cut into a beard-like shape - like a shaggy triangle-ish shape with a slightly rounded top.  I cut a few slits from the rounded top down about an inch, laid a strip of 1/4 inch wide elastic under the slits, then folded and glued the pieces down. Like this:

I intentionally made the beard so that it hung down around his chest area, not up on his face, as I knew there was no way the clever boy would go for that!

For the belt buckle, I cut a piece of yellow craft foam into a rectangle and cut two slits on the sides:

Then I put a piece of black 2-inch elastic up through one side and down through the other so it looked more like a buckle, and sewed the ends together, making it loose enough to go around the clever boy's belly while wearing the jacket.

For the jacket, I made Simplicity 2526, view D, size 2, out of navy fleece.  I made the sleeves 2 3/4 inches longer than the pattern suggested, and used a 1/2 inch hem on the sleeve, instead of the allowed 1 1/4 inch hem.  I think the sleeves on this jacket ran small, so I made them longer plus added more for a cuff.  I trimmed the cuff with yellow gingham so that the part that folded up was gingham.  I also used the gingham under the collar and in the button facing, so that the jacket would not be as thick in those places.  I love how this turned out!  The pattern was easy and sewing with fleece is a breeze!  No need to finish seams!  I had never sewn with fleece before!  If I ever figure out how to use my serger (some day....) this would be even easier, I bet!

Oh, and as a note, the pattern does not suggest fleece for this view of the jacket but does for another view.  I could not figure out why, so I found an email address for Simplicity and sent them a message.  They contacted me back right away!  Impressive!

So, not only did the clever boy get a great gnome costume, he got a jacket he can wear all the time!  (Note that the hood in the above photo is not part of the jacket but on the shirt he has on underneath.)

In all, a successful Halloween.  Both kids had a BLAST and the costumes were a total hit!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Amaretti

We made Amaretti this week with Baking with Julia!  Now, I have to admit, I had no idea what amaretti actually were when this recipe was chosen.  I  mean, I knew it had to contain almonds, but I had never heard of amaretti before.  Essentially it is an almond flavored macaron.

Here are my thoughts on amaretti:
1)  They are super easy to make.  Literally, there are 3 ingredients:  almond paste, sugar, egg whites.  Yes there is a pine nut on top so that is technically ingredient number 4 but it isn't actually IN the cookie, just pressed on top so I don't count that one.  It's essentially decoration.
2)  They are gluten-free for the many people who sadly cannot digest gluten well.
3)  Weird technique alert:  After piping the cookies onto the cookie sheet, you dab them with a wet tea-towel to smooth out the tops.  That's a new one for me!
4)  They are crisp on the outside and chewy inside.
5)  They are one of the weirdest cookies I have ever eaten.
6)  However, I can't stop eating them!  I am constantly lifting up the lid on their container and eating another one!!  And each time, I think, "huh, these are weird, but good, too!"

Truly, I think I would enjoy anything involving almond paste.  I love almond flavor so that is right up my alley.  If you DO NOT like almond flavor, these would NOT be the cookie for you!  But if you do, yum.  Get yourself a nice hot mug of tea and a couple of these cookies on a plate and put your feet up.  Well, only put your feet up if the cookie tin is nearby, so you don't have to get up to get more.  Because you might want to do that, and it would be a fat bummer to get all comfy with your cookies and tea and then  have to get up again just to get more!

I might try to reduce the sugar a bit in these next time.  And I am not sure if I really need the pine nut on top.  Why not a slivered almond?  Too much almond?  Maybe do a sprinkle of big-grain sugar?  

Check out the TWD blog under "LYL:  Amaretti" to see what the other bloggers thought about amaretti!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TWD: Baking Chez Moi - Palets de Dames

Welcome to the first recipe in a new baking adventure!  The Tuesdays with Dorie group has taken on a new cookbook!  See, Dorie Greenspan published a new cookbook, Baking Chez Moi, so we couldn't let this awesome event pass us by.  We are taking it on, while continuing with our other cookbook, Baking with Julia.   Honestly, this is an undertaking that I am not certain I will be able to totally complete, as it means that we are baking and posting something for every Tuesday.  And while you know I have a compulsion to bake, I have other things I want to bake/cook/post about as well, so this could get tricky.  But I will do my best and I hope you'll stick with me!

So, our first recipe is Palets de Dames.  They are a cakey cookie with a delicate vanilla flavor that is brightened with a lemony-sweet icing on top.  The batter for this cookie is really like cake batter.  Very soft and sticky.  It refrigerates for at least an hour, which helps it firm up to be a bit more cookie-dough-ish.   It is then scooped out in little balls onto the cookie sheet.  Dorie recommends using a 2-teaspoon cookie scoop for such an endeavor.  That lady is smart.  I don't have one so I just used 2 teaspoons-worth of dough and rolled it in my hands.  This was sticky and messy.  Doable, of course, but don't you think I should purchase some cookie scoops?  I think it is definitely a good idea.  You can never have too many baking gadgets, can you?  (Hint: The correct answer is "No, of COURSE not!")

While these cookies are cute, and tasty, I am not sure I'll make them again.  They aren't a cookie that call to me every time I walk near the kitchen, "come have a treat...." which, actually, is probably a good thing.  However if anyone asks for iced cookies, I'd make these in a heartbeat.  They really are easy and tasty.  Oh, and I added the sprinkles.  They aren't a necessity for these cookies, but they sure make them cute, huh?  And trust me, sprinkles take them OVER THE TOP for 6-year old girls! 

You can find this recipe on pages 272-274 of Baking Chez Moi.  Since this is my first recipe out of this book, I can't say much about the book as a whole yet.  However, based on the brilliance of Baking: From My Home to Yours and my complete admiration for Dorie Greenspan, I suspect that this cookbook will be fantastic!  I was able to pre-order it before it was published, so it arrived on my doorstep the exact day it came out!  I have to admit that I grabbed the book from my porch, ran into the house, and slowly but eagerly looked through every page.  I'm such a dork. 

If you want to see what other bakers thought of this recipe, head to the Tuesdays with Dorie blog and click on LYL:  Palets de Dames.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Coconut and Chocolate Macaroons

When life gives you lots of egg whites, make macaroons!  That's what I decided, anyway.  You may wonder when life gives you lots of egg whites.  In my life, it happens when I make ice cream.  Ice cream recipes tend to call for lots of egg yolks, and then you have whites left over.  So I suggest making good use of those whites and making macaroons!  (You can also freeze egg whites, I have read, but I haven't actually done that before.... great idea though!)

These are actually really easy to make.  And yet they look as though you did something very complicated!  First, you gently cook some egg whites, sugar, salt, honey, coconut and flour in a large skillet, add some vanilla, and then let it cool.  I plopped mine in the refrigerator and finished up another day.  When you are ready to bake, moisten your hands with water and roll the coconut mixture into balls, place them on a baking sheet, and slide them into the oven.  If you want to dip them in chocolate (why wouldn't you want to do that??) melt the chocolate in a double boiler, dip each macaroon in the melted chocolate, and place on a baking sheet covered in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until set.  DONE.  It really is that easy. 

You have to try this!

Coconut and Chocolate Macaroons
adapted from David Lebovitz, Ready for Dessert
makes approximately 30 cookies
4 large egg whites
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 TB honey
2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces (or amount of your choosing) bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate, chopped

Mix together the egg whites, sugar, salt, honey, coconut and flour in a large skillet.  Heat over low to medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to scorch on the bottom.  Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract.  Place mixture in a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.  You can now refrigerate the mixture for up to a week, or freeze for up to 2 months.

Preheat oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Moisten your hands with water (this is important - it helps the coconut mixture stick to itself and not to you!).  Make mounds that are approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter and place them evenly spaced on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool completely.

Melt chocolate in a double-boiler set over simmering water.  Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap.  Dip each cookie into the chocolate and place on the baking sheet.  Refrigerate for 5-10 minutes, until the chocolate it set.
NOTE:  You should be able to find unsweetened flaked coconut in the baking aisle of a large grocery store.  I think mine was "Bob's Red Mill" brand.  It tends to come in tinier flakes than your typical sweetened coconut, and the bag is more rectangular instead of flat.  If you can't find it there, check your local natural foods store or Whole Foods type market.
Printable Recipe

These were a HUGE hit in my house.  Mr. Clever Mom thought the kids must have done something very special to warrant macaroons.  He wanted to know what the special occasion might be.  I just let him guess.....

Baby in a trance of coconut/chocolate bliss....

They are messy if you eat them before the chocolate sets! 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Coconut Lime Shrimp Tacos

Ready for a quick and delicious dinner?  Here you go!  Coconut Lime Shrimp Tacos!  These are not only delicious, but they are very fast, especially you can get the people at the fish counter to peel and de-vein the shrimp for you before you even bring them home!  (I must admit, this is what I usually try to do.  I have a total aversion to de-veining shrimp.)  So if you can get said fishmonger to peel and de-vein the shrimp for you, you are golden and this recipe will be a snap! 

Besides the fact that the shrimp are coated in a tasty mixture of coconut and lime zest, there is an awesome salsa on top made of red pepper, mango and avocado.  Doesn't it look bright and cheerful?  It tastes that way, too!    I realize that these ingredients may be seasonal for some people, so if you can't get mango right now at your supermarket, print out this recipe and put it somewhere that you will remember it come summer.  If you CAN get mango, get it and enjoy a piece of summer for just a bit longer!

Coconut Lime Shrimp Tacos
adapted from The Housewife in Training Files
Serves 4 (2 tacos each)

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined (wild, if you can get it!)
1 egg
1 overflowing cup of unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 ripe mango, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced (or onion/shallot of your preference)
2 avocados, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
8 corn tortillas

Preheat your oven to 375F.  Spray a wire rack with cooking spray and place over a lined baking sheet.

Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels.  Whisk the egg in a shallow bowl.  Mix the coconut, cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and lemon zest in another shallow bowl or pie pan.  Dip each shrimp in the egg and then cover completely with the coconut mixture.  Place on the wire rack, evenly spaced apart.  Bake shrimp for 10  minutes, or until coconut is lightly brown and shrimp is cooked.

While the shrimp are in the oven, combine the mango, red pepper, onion, cumin, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and lemon juice.  Once it is seasoned to your taste, gently mix in the avocado, being careful not to smash the pieces. 

Heat the tortillas in the microwave or over the flame of your stove.  Add the shrimp and place the salsa on top.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve immediately.
Printable Recipe

Yum!  Enjoy a bright, healthy, tasty dinner!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

TWD: Baking with Julia - Sunny-side-up Peach Pastries

Our Tuesday's with Dorie group decided that October would be puff pastry month.  Theoretically, the weather has gotten cooler (in many parts of the world, but not here, phooey!) so making puff pastry would not be as difficult.  Making puff pastry is a time consuming project but I find it rather nice.  It's kind of like a meditation.... Roll roll roll, fold into thirds, turn, do it again...  According to the book, when you are done with the 6 turns you make with puff pastry, there are 994 layers of dough and 993 layers of butter!  I'll have to take their word for it.  I will not be testing that theory! 

Pounded butter on dough

I have made puff pastry before and found this dough to be quite easy to work.  It was simple to make and rolled out very smoothly.  I did learn that while puff pastry recipes call for very cold butter, you should  NOT use frozen butter.  I had only 2 sticks of butter in the refrigerator when I started this recipe, and you need a pound, so I pulled 2 out of the freezer.  Well, frozen butter doesn't pound as well as cold butter does.  It just doesn't give!  In case you are wondering, when you first start working with the butter, you literally pound it with your rolling pin to get it softened a bit and into the right size to start.  It's quite nice, the pounding.  It just feels good, trust me!

A nice present.. Dough wrapped butter!
You wrap the butter in the dough and then roll it out into a long rectangle.  Fold it into thirds like a business letter, turn it, and roll it out again.  If you live somewhere that isn't actually cool, this can take a while because if the butter gets too warm, you need to cover the dough with plastic and put it in the refrigerator for at least 30-60 minutes to cool down again.  Then start again!  When you make puff pastry, you do 6 "turns" which includes rolling the the rectangle, folding the dough, and then turning the dough a different direction.  I refrigerated my dough after every 2 turns.  

Here is a hint for making puff pastry:  You need a cool room and a cool rolling surface.  I can't change the weather here that brought humidity into my house, but I could help out the rolling surface.  I do not have a marble board for rolling pastry (though obviously I NEED one!) so I improvise.  I set a metal baking sheet that just has a tiny rim on the ends upside down on top of a reusable ice mat.  The baking sheet becomes my rolling surface and it stays nice and cold with the ice mat underneath!   Here is mine:

I purchased mine at The Container Store but you can probably buy them on Amazon or other places.  

These pastries are supposed to look like sunny-side-up eggs.  There are supposed to be apricots on top, but since I could not find any, I used peaches instead.  Each pastry contains 1/2 of a peach, cut into two quarters for the "eggs".  While they aren't exactly what the recipe requested, they turned out pretty tasty just the same!

Me being me, I didn't sit down to actually WATCH the Baking with Julia episode that contains the puff pastry and Sunny-side-up Pastries until my own pastries were in the oven.  Yes, it is a bit late by then to change anything, but that is just how it goes sometimes!

My thoughts on this recipe:
  1. The book says to roll out the puff pastry to 1/8 to 1/4 inch and then cut into 4-inch circles.  The video says to roll out the puff pastry to 1/2 inch and then cut into 4-inch circles.  I think 1/2 inch would have been better.  By the time I had rolled my 4-inch circle into an 8-inch long oval, it was pretty darned thin in the middle.  Had I started out with a thicker circle, I'd have a thicker  oval.  And who would complain about a little more puff pastry??
  2. I prefer a different pastry cream recipe I think.  I didn't find this one to be as delicious as I thought it should be.  I wanted to want to lick the bowl, you know?  This was good, but it was not lick-the-bowl good.  It could be because I used vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean (out of sheer laziness and time conservation).  Maybe the vanilla bean would have made the difference?  But you could use any pastry cream recipe here.
  3. Speaking of pastry cream, I dalloped mine onto my pastry and then spread it around a bit to have a place for the peaches.  Wrong!  The better plan is to dallop it on and leave it in a mound.  Set the peaches/apricots up against the mound of cream. They help hold the cream in the pastry so it doesn't leak out.  Mine did leak a bit.  Lesson learned!
Overall, we  enjoyed these pastries!  They are certainly a delicious way to start the day, if you have them with breakfast as intended.  Mine were for dessert (I cannot imagine making these in the morning, but my mornings are a bit hectic with two kiddos) and they made a nice dessert as well!

Making these pastries gave me some nice scraps of puff pastry that will be used in the next Tuesdays with Dorie challenge.  However I also have another 1 1/4 pounds of puff pastry (this recipe used 1/2 of a puff pastry recipe, if  that makes sense) so what should I create with that???  Any suggestions?

The recipe for the puff pastry can be found on pages 46-49 of Baking with Julia, or you can find it here.  The recipe for the sunny-side-up apricot pastries can be found on pages 192-194 of Baking with Julia, or you can find it here. Remember, you don't have to make your own puff pastry to make this recipe!  You could grab a box at the grocery store and have an awesome pastry in no time!

Check out our other bakers thought by going to the TWD blog and clicking on the different baker's links!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Playdate Pizza!

The clever girl had one of her friends over for a play-date!  Since we were going to have dinner together, I thought it might be fun for the two of them to make a pizza! 

Before we picked up the clever girl's friend, we made the pizza dough.  I used Bobby Flay's recipe, which is easy to make and makes a tasty crust.  The clever girl carefully kneaded the dough before we left it alone to rise.

I made the scary decision to pre-bake the crust a little before adding the toppings.  I bake it on a pizza stone in a really hot oven (450F+) for about 5 minutes.  This means that when you put the toppings on, you are dealing with a hot crust on a SUPER  hot stone.  I decided to brave the hot stone and wrap the visible areas with kitchen towels to prevent burns.  These awesome girls are 6 so when I explained that the stone was super hot so they could not touch any of the toweled areas, they were very careful and did just fine.  Phew!  I had prepared all of the toppings in separate bowls in advance... the sauce and different cheeses were all ready. 

Pizza Dough
adapted from Bobby Flay
makes 2 14-inch pizza crusts

3 1/2 to 4 cups bread flour, plus more for rolling (bread flour yields a crispier crust.  If you substitute all-purpose flour, you will get a chewier crust)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water, 110F
2 TB olive water, plus 2 teaspoons

Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer.  With the mixer running, slowly add the water and 2 TB olive oil and mix until the dough forms a ball.  If the dough is sticky, add more flour, 1 TB at a time, until the dough is a solid ball.  If the dough is dry, add more water, 1 TB at a time.  Scrape the dough onto a lightly flowered surface and gently knead into a smooth, firm ball.

Grease a large bowl with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil.  Add the dough and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Place the bowl in a warm location and let it double in size, about 1 hour.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 equal pieces.  Cover each with a clean tea-towel or plastic wrap, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Place a baking stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 450F+.  Sprinkle cornmeal over a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet.  Press and gently tug one piece of dough into a 14-inch circle on the peel or baking sheet.  When the oven is heated, gently slide the crust onto the stone and pre-bake for 5 minutes.  OR you can skip this step.  Shape the dough and cover with your choice of pizza toppings.  Gently slide the pizza onto the hot stone and bake for 15-20 minutes, until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.
Printable Recipe

This was a total hit!  The girls had such fun making their own pizza!  We used shredded mozzerella, fresh  mozzarella and Parmesan.  Yum.  The cheesier the better, right?