Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Blueberry-Nectarine Pie

There were 5 Tuesdays in July, so we had 3 projects this month!  This week's recipe for Tuesdays with Dorie is Blueberry-Nectarine Pie.  I actually made mine for a July 4th party, hence the decorations you'll see below.  I have to say I am a real sucker for a good fruit pie.  Of all desserts, I love pie the most.  Which is not to say I don't like others.  I don't want any desserts to go off feeling un-loved by that statement.  I happen to like all desserts, fortunately for my baking endeavors but unfortunately for my waistline!  Pies just happen to be my favorites.

Now when I first saw that this was going to be a blueberry-nectarine pie, I had a slight worry.  The nectarines and peaches I had been seeing at the grocery store were more like rocks disguised as fruit.  Terrible!  They never ripen.  Some even SMELLED like fruit (tricky rocks) but remained rocks on my counter.  Grrr.  Then, a miracle occurred!  I happened by some nectarines at Costco of all places, which not only looked and smelled like nectarines, but they were soft and truly appeared to be fruit instead of rocks!  I bought a box and have been dancing the happy dance ever since.  Yippee!

To make a Blueberry-Nectarine Pie, you first start with Flaky Pie Dough.  The recipe can be found on page 31 of Baking with Julia, or here and here online.   I do have a favorite pie crust recipe and it gave me pause to consider making a different one, but this is a challenge and by golly I would try that different recipe!  And I am glad I did!  The dough was a bit harder to work with than my usual one (stickier to roll) but it did create a delicious flaky pie crust!  So if you are up for another recipe, here's how it goes:

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Kiddo Pajamas - a Tutorial!

I had this inspiration to make pajamas for the clever girl.  Most jammies are the cotton knit sort but I thought a lightweight cotton would be comfy, so I went to work!  For material, I used and old sheet that my sister had stamped a decoration on and given to me as a gift about a zillion years ago.  We got a bigger bed, the sheets got put in a stack of sheets for the guest room and they are rarely used.  They are super soft and with that cute stamped border I figured they'd make great pajamas.  I can honestly say that when I showed them to the clever girl, her first comment was "Momma, they are so soft and snuggle-y!"  She now calls them the snuggle-y pajamas.  Don't overlook old sheets when thinking of material for sewing!  Re-purpose some old sheets into something soft and snuggle-y! 

The pants were the easy part.  I went over to MADE and used her tutorial for kid pants!  Her tutorial is for size 2-3, so I increased the long side by 1/2 inch in width, made the pants leg 1/2 inch longer, and made the rise 1 inch longer.  The pants are big and roomy on the clever girl, so there is definite room to grow.  Since I used the sheet border as the hem, I wanted to make sure the pants were plenty long since I would not be creating a big hem that could later be let down.  As is, the pants pool around her feet a bit but that is alright with me.

This is my first clothing tutorial type thing so bear with me.  I did not take any pictures along the way so I will do my best to be super descriptive.  For the top, I first sketched it out on a piece of paper, as shown below.  The measurements provided are FINISHED sizes.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


We left for vacation early this morning, and will be gone for about 2 1/2 weeks.  I have many posts scheduled to appear in my absence and will be working on some new projects while I am gone.  While I intend to check my blog with some regularity, I may not respond to a comment as quickly as usual.  Both my in-laws and my parents are celebrating their 50th anniversaries this summer and we are going to visit each family to celebrate!  What a blessing!  It will be a fantastic (and probable somewhat exhausting) trip!  We are headed to upstate New York and St. Louis. 

There will be some baking adventures while I am gone, as the Tuesdays with Dorie challenges are already scheduled.  In addition, I am baking a tiered wedding-style cake for my parent's celebration.  I have never attempted something like this before so wish me luck!  I'm excited for the challenge.

I have started a new knitting project for the trip as well.  I just can't travel without a knitting project!  So, there is a new project on the needles just waiting to be created!

There will be lots to discuss when I return.  Farewell for now!  Have a good couple of weeks!

-one clever mom

Friday, July 27, 2012

Perfect Classic Pound Cake

I have been babysitting some chickens while a neighbor went on vacation.  Yep, you read that right, chickens!  No, I do not live in the country, I actually live in an urban area but my neighbors have chickens!  When they go on vacation, I chicken-sit for them.  Hence, I have lots of fresh eggs.  It is really quite fun to chicken-sit.  The clever girl thinks it is so great to see the chickens and she even gets to pet them!  They are nice girls.  And she LOVES getting the eggs and carefully carrying them home.  It's great!

But now I am about to go on vacation, and I had to use these awesome eggs!  Trust me, I've been making omelets and quiches galore, but we still had lots of eggs!  Eureka!  I found a recipe for the Perfect Classic Pound Cake, which takes a total of 12 eggs!

My beautiful eggs.  I put them in an egg carton for storage, but I promise you, they came straight from the girls down the street.  Girls, as in chickens.

Daring Bakers: Crazy for Crackers!

Our Jully 2012 Daring Bakers' Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers!  Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged us to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

While I knew it was possible to make crackers, I must admit it was not something to which I had given much thought.  So when the July challenge was announced, I was intrigued!  Crackers!  Hmmm.

There are several methods for making crackers, and part of our assignment was to try two different methods.  Crackers can be made by hand rolling, using pasta rollers, and by putting them in the icebox and slicing.  While I do own a pasta roller, I opted to use the two other methods for my crackers:  hand rolling and icebox.  Crackers are surprisingly easy and fun to make!  Why didn't I think of this sooner? 

I was thrilled to discover a recipe for homemade Ritz crackers.  We eat a LOT of Ritz crackers, or "circle crackers", as the clever girl calls them.  To make my own without the bizarre unpronounceable ingredients from the packaged Ritz would be fantastic!  Stef, of the Cupcake Project, went on a mission at one point to create the perfect Ritz cracker.  Yahoo, because she baked about a zillion crackers before figuring it out!  I benefited from her mission!  Thanks, Stef!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lisette Diplomat Dress

I sewed something for me!  The vast majority of my sewing tends to be for the clever girl or for gifts, so I have been determined this summer to make some things for me.  My first accomplishment is this dress!  It is a Lisette pattern, the Diplomat Dress, and you can find it as Simplicity 1878.  JoAnns recently had a sale with all Simplicity patterns for $1.99 so I stocked up on some of the Lisette patterns!  You just can't beat that price!  Lisette patterns are made by the same company/designers that make Oliver + S patterns for kids.  Those are my very favorite kids clothing patterns, so I was super-thrilled when they came out with an adult line!

These patterns are sized like most sewing patterns, in that the size you wear in a store is NOT AT ALL what you would make.  It is totally crazy and plays a bit with your self image but you just have to get over that if you are going to sew for yourself.

So here is my Diplomat Dress.  I used an organic cotton I purchased from Sew Mama Sew.  I have never used organic cotton and it is nice and soft and washes well.  I made style A, with the length of style B.  According to my dimensions, I made the size that should have been perfect (a 14) but it ended up gigantic.  So I took it in quite a bit and now it works fine.   It is still a bit bigger than I might prefer in the neckline/shoulders but not enough to be a problem at all.  It just lets me know that I could have probably made a 12, so I may do the 12 in the next pattern and hope they all run a bit big...  We'll see.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Stir-Fried Shrimp with Garlicky Eggplant, Scallions, and Cashews

This is a really good shrimp stir-fry dish with a ridiculously long name:  Stir-fried Shrimp with Garlicky Eggplant, Scallions, and Cashews.  The recipe is from Cooks Illustrated.  Maybe that day they were just out of brainstorms for a shorter name or something.  I call it Shrimp and Eggplant Stir-fry.  I think that is good enough.

Shrimp and Eggplant Stir-fry
aka Stir-fried Shrimp with Garlicky Eggplant, Scallions, and Cashews
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

Serves 4
Serve over brown rice.

6 medium garlic cloves, 1 minced or pressed through garlic press, 5 thinly sliced
1 pound extra-large (21-25) shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I use low-sodium Tamari)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry or Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar (I use rice vinegar)
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons cornstarch
6 large scallions, greens cut into 1-inch pieces and whites sliced thin
1/2 cup cashews, unsalted
1 medium eggplant (about 3/4 pound), cut into 3/4-inch dice

Combine minced garlic with shrimp, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and salt in medium bowl. Let shrimp marinate at room temperature 30 minutes.  Depending on your particular brown rice (regular, instant, etc.) start your rice as appropriate.

Meanwhile, whisk soy sauce, oyster sauce, sherry, sugar, sesame oil, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and cornstarch in small bowl. Combine sliced garlic with scallion whites and cashews in another small bowl.  Heat 1 tablespoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet or a wok over high heat until just smoking. Add eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, 3 to 6 minutes. Add scallion greens and continue to cook until scallion greens begin to brown and eggplant is fully tender, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer vegetables to medium bowl.

Heat remaining tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet/wok. Add cashew mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown, about 30 seconds. Add shrimp, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp are light pink on both sides, 1 to 1½ minutes. Whisk soy sauce mixture to recombine and add to skillet/wok.  Return to high heat and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and shrimp are cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Return vegetables to skillet, toss to combine, and serve. 
Printable Recipe

Besides the marinating, which you have to remember in advance, this recipe is really quite fast and makes for a great weekday meal!  The flavors really compliment each other well!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Oliver + S Badminton Skort and Top

I was so excited when I found out that Oliver + S was designing a pattern with a skort!  I have made skorts from knit material (if you can believe that!!) but not from regular cotton.  So not only does this skirt have built-in shorts (a necessity for every active little girl in my opinion), but do you see that cute scalloped edge?  I purchased this pattern right away.  It is the Oliver + S Badminton Skort and Top pattern.  The material is from the Hope Valley Collection of Free Spirit Fabrics, purchased from Sew Mama Sew.  

I actually made another coordinating top, using a sort of striped material for the background and the pink of this top for the trim in the other.  Cute.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Semolina Bread

After quite a few baked sweets, Tuesdays with Dorie planned a bread for this month!  It is a Semolina Bread, and can be found on page 102 of Baking with Julia, or you can also find the recipe at Renee's blog, The Way to My Family's Heart, or at Anna's blog, Keep it Luce

I love homemade bread and for reasons even I don't really know, I don't make it much.  I even have a great cookbook Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day, and I still don't make it very often.  Oh, and by the way, that cookbook works!  I totally recommend it.  For some reason, I bake bread in spurts.  I do it all the time and then we have a huge drought of baked bread.  Currently, I am telling myself that when we get our new kitchen, I'll bake more breads as I'll have more space.  I am not sure what my excuse will be when our new house is actually built, but this excuse works for now!

This bread is thankfully very forgiving.  The recipe, though not difficult, takes a LONG time, as you let the "sponge" sit a while and then there are 2 rises for the bread.  Thus I kept forgetting that I was baking bread and a WAY longer amount of time than called for would pass before I would think, "oh, yeah, the bread!!"  Terrible!

For this recipe, first you make the sponge.  A sponge is a fermentation starter.  Using this method to bake bread, the yeast gets more time to work on the starch and protein in the dough, which is supposed to improve the keeping time of dough and create a bread with more complex flavors.  The sponge is made of yeast and equal parts water and flour.  Mix it together and let it sit for 2 HOURS.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Double Strength Vanilla Extract

If you have been reading this blog for very long, you may have realized I have a bit of an obsession with double strength vanilla extract.  It is all I use and I do not halve the amount - I use the same amount as a recipe suggests for single strength extract.  I just love vanilla.

Recently I thought I would try to find out more about what makes double strength extract so good and had the epiphany that I COULD MAKE IT MYSELF.  Holy macaroni, this practically sent shivers down my spine!  I purchase my double strength vanilla extract at Penzey's, and it is mighty fine, and I pay a mighty fine price for it.  Could I seriously make it myself and have it be (1) really good AND (2) save some money?  Well, friends, we shall soon see.

I did tons of research online of people who make their own vanilla extract.  The basics are simple:  all you need is vanilla beans and vodka and time.  The variations come in with HOW MANY vanilla beans per unit of vodka, how much you actually work with the beans prior to bottling, how long you let it "brew" or whatever.  Ok, more research.  According to the FDA, vanilla extract contains 13.35 oz. of bean per gallon of alcohol.  This means approximately 100 beans per gallon, or 6 beans per cup.  However, I wanted double strength vanilla.  So I needed to double that.  I planned to make 1.75 liters (or 1/2 gallon) so I used 100 beans for 1.75 liters.

On to what kind of vanilla beans to buy...
There are two types of vanilla, Planifolia and Tahitensis.  Planifolia has a strong, familiar flavor and is also knows as Madagascar Bourbon vanilla.  Tahitian vanilla is a weaker variety, with more floral  and sweet flavors.  There are two grades of planifolia vanilla beans:  Grade A (aka gourmet or prime) and Grade B (aka chef or extract).  Grade A beans are more oily and moist, are visually very attractive, and have a higher moisture content.  Grade B beans are less attractive and have a lower moisture content.  Grade B beans are used for extracts because you want that drier bean for less water weight.  You get more beans per pound so more bean ends up in the extract instead of water weight.  You don't want the extra water.  Plus it doesn't matter how pretty the beans are when you are making extract.  Get it?  I purchased vanilla beans from a store in San Francisco called Vanilla Saffron Imports.  Their prices are unbelievable and the reviews were great.  I got a pound of chef quality planifolia vanilla beans for $19.95 plus shipping!   

Friday, July 13, 2012

People Hand Puppets

For my last installment in the Puppet series, here are the people hand puppets!  For the puppet theatre and the animal puppets, see here and here.  When I was little, I had some hand puppets made by my parents.  (I come from a long line of crafty folks!)  My sister actually kept those puppets, so I asked her to mail them to me so I could use them as a go-by for making some for the clever girl.  Let me tell you, the puppets my parents made were seriously groovy.  I mean, without giving away too much, my sister and I played with these puppets in the 1970s, so you can just imagine what they looked like!  But one thing I really loved is that the girl puppet had big loop earrings and I thought that was just fantastic.  I still do, actually.  Those puppets were TINY.  I can scarcely get my hand into them now, so I knew I needed to make these puppets bigger so I could play with them too!

Thus started the puppet making process!  First I picked out some fun material for the bodies.  I used decorator fabric samples.  You could use any fabric, though I would shy from anything too thin.  You want them to be somewhat sturdy so you can really play!  For the insides of their mouths, I used a thin denim for 2 and a brown broadcloth for the other.  The tongues are a dark red felt.  Then I pulled out my button stash and picked out buttons for eyes.  Above you see the basic supplies.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Everyone has their favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and this is mine.  A friend of mine came up with this recipe.  He took Alton Brown's recipes for Puffy Chocolate Chip Cookies and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, and created this recipe that is both chewy and puffy!  In my opinion, no other recipe comes even close to this one.  It is that good!

In case you are wondering, these are the treats I brought to school to celebrate the clever girl's 4th birthday with her class, hence the 4 in chocolate on top!

Cream butter-flavored shortening with the sugar.  You might be shouting, "WHAT, no butter??" right now, so let me explain.  Using shortening helps the cookie to be puffier.  Butter has water in it and shortening doesn't.  When you bake a cookie using butter, the butter melts and spreads faster and further than it would with shortening.  Cookies made with shortening will be lighter, with a crispier exterior and a slightly chewy center.  Cookies made with butter will be flatter, crispier around the edges, and chewier in the middle, more like a brownie texture.  If you use white shortening, you will definitely miss the butter taste, as that does contribute to the total flavor of the cookie, so use butter flavor shortening.  OR, use white shortening and add about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter flavor.  All of this is not to say that I make all cookies with shortening.  But I do for this one, because it is the perfect combination of the chewy and puffy chocolate chip cookie!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Weekend Waffles

If we aren't eating pancakes (regular or orange) on Saturday mornings, we are often eating waffles instead.  I just love a home-y breakfast!  The recipe I usually use for waffles comes from Alton Brown's cookbook I'm Just Here for More Food.  It is fairly basic, and depending on the speed and size of your waffle maker, relatively fast.

First, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  I add a few shakes of cinnamon, too.  Alton Brown actually says to mix this in a food processor but I use a whisk instead.  In a separate bowl, whisk melted butter and eggs, and then add buttermilk and sugar.  I add a bit of vanilla extract, too.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Animal Hand Puppets

I loved hand puppets as a child, so I decided to make the clever girl some for her birthday.  Surprisingly, when I Googled hand puppets, I got a lot of finger puppet tutorials and some more marionnette-like puppets, but few actual hand puppets!  Finally, I found an adorable pattern for a bunny hand puppet from The Purl Bee.  I copied the actual pattern at 90% to make it a bit smaller for a kiddo hand but still big enough for an adult hand.  While the bunny was perfect, I wanted other animals too, so I just used the body of the bunny and went wild! 

The patterns called for wool felt, but I could not find any and used acrylic instead.  Here is my little bunny.  The cutest part is actually the tail, which of course I did not photograph, but it is a sweet little pom-pom tail in the pink felt. 

Then I started to get crazy and made a cat.  I thought a solid cat was not fun enough, so I made it a striped kitty.  There are stripes on the back of the tail, and you can see the embroidery stitches from the front. 

And here is the puppy dog!  Again, there are spots on the back of the tail.

I love these puppets.  I actually intend to make her more, but ran out of time before her birthday.  I have the materials though for a lion, elephant, monkey, and giraffe.  The options are endless! 

This project was very fun.  Mr. Clever Mom and I worked on it together in the evenings after the clever girl was in bed.  Yep, you read that right!  He helped!  I had him cutting out the felt while I sewed the pieces together.  He actually has the basic body pieces cut for the other animals I want to make! 

The clever girl has had such fun with these puppets.  Along with the puppets, I also made her a puppet theatre  and some "people" puppets.  A post about the "people" puppets will follow!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Almond Biscotti

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is supposed to be Hazelnut Biscotti.  While I do like hazelnuts, I happened to have plenty of whole almonds on hand, so I decided to make Almond Biscotti instead!  If you would like the recipe, it is on page 315 of Baking with Julia, or you can check out the host bloggers:  Jodi of Homemade and Wholesome and Katrina of Baking and Boys.

One great thing about this recipe is that I had all of the ingredients right on hand!  Yippee!  That makes it so much easier!

The first thing you have to do is to peel the almonds.  The recipe included directions as to how to peel hazelnuts, and though I didn't actually follow them for the almonds, the techniques were very similar.  To peel an almond, first boil some water.  You'll want quite a bit more water than you have almonds, so for 2/3 of a cup of almonds, I used 2 cups of water.  I think the general ratio would be 4-5 cups of water per 1 cup of almonds.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Puppet Theatre

I made the clever girl a puppet theatre and several puppets for her birthday!  Boy, oh, boy was it a hit!  It is simple to do and you even create a little bag to store the theatre in when you are done for the day!  Perfect!  The pattern is from Bend-the-Rules Sewing, by Amy Karol.  If you follow crafty blogs, you may know her as Angry Chicken.  She is brilliant.  (Seriously, you should check out her video tutorials, they are super!) 

The storage bag.