Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Anniversary, My Sweet

Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Friday, December 26, 2008

Secret Holiday Project: Complete

Now that it has been opened, here is the cryptic mystery gift that I've been working on: A painting smock for Polyhymnia.

Polyhymnia is artistic and, in particular, quite talented with watercolors. Hopefully this smock, with it's geishas in artistic pursuits, will help keep her creative juices flowing and her paints from flowing onto her clothing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas the Night before Christmas...

And all thru the Kitchen,
The aroma from the oven,
Smelled finger-lickin'

Or not. Sadly, last night the oven threw a tempter tantrum and stopped working. Again. Thankfully, it did not stop us from completing our Santa's Kitchen project.

Here it is: our gift of peanut brittle, truffles, caramels, spiced nuts, peppermint bark(on top) and limoncello.

Season's Eatings!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Santa's Kitchen: Molten chocolate

Today Santa's Kitchen focused on chocolate confections. First, we made peppermint bark, which is very easy but incredibly tasty.

Basically, you melt dark chocolate and spread it onto a sheet pan in a thin layer and let it cool. When it has solidified, melt an equal amount of white chocolate, add some peppermint extract and spread it out on top of the dark layer. Then sprinkle broken pieces of candy cane or other mint on top. I was in charge of melting the chocolate. Phineas was in charge of hacking the peppermints to bits.

Next, we made truffles, a more complex operation. First you make a ganache (dark chocolate and cream) and let it cool until firm. Then you form your truffles and freeze them for about 15 minutes until they are solid. After that, you give them a bath in melted chocolate and toss them into cocoa. Voila! Truffles.

Feast of Seven Fishes

Orpheus was the official photographer at the Feast of Seven Fishes on Saturday, which meant lots of pictures of people and pets, and none of the actual feast. Oh well. However, the ravioli was a big hit (no leftovers), and everyone had a good time.

Polyhymnia, Calliope and Terpischore

Me and Linus

Uncle Phineas

Magenta, DugDug, Me and Orpheus with the beagle pack, Jerry and Casey

Another new recipe that was a success was the spicy parmesan cheese straws from the blog of Eric Ripert, exec chef at Le Bernardin. They were excellent!

Before being popped in the oven.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Nuts in Santa's Kitchen: Take Two

I'm having a real crisis of confidence in the spiced nut department. On Wednesday night, I made another batch, this time using a recipe by Emeril, which I thought would be a little more main-stream than my spicy version. The only change I made was to replace the cumin with more cinnamon.

I am going to have some victims - I mean, testers - try the nuts out over the weekend. I definitely don't like them as much as the spicy ones. So, we'll see.

If this batch doesn't work out (and even if it does), I am planning on trying the recipe Mar-Mar posted to my comments. Maybe I will find a recipe that pleases all pallets.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Feast of Seven Fishes

My second holiday cooking project is a Feast of Seven Fishes for my family. Instead of doing this annual seafood extravaganza on Christmas Eve, as is traditional, we are doing it on Saturday, when everyone can make it.

This year I am changing the much loved pasta course to a homemade lobster and crab ravioli that Phineas and I tested last week. The seafood flavor is the star of the show. I think the 50/50 ratio of seafood to mascarpone allows the sweetness of the crab and lobster to shine.

Phineas really has this down to a science
Ravioli production took place on Monday night. Phineas rolled out sheets of pasta and I stuffed them with the mixture of lobster, snow crab, mascarpone and a reduction of leek, brandy and white wine. (Note to self: I need more recipes in my collection which call for lighting things on fire. I love any excuse to flambe. It's exciting and dramatic. And I managed to do it without burning down the house or injuring innocent bystanders.)

I may have over-stuffed some of them

So now we've got a bunch of the ravioli in the freezer.

Flying Saucer shaped ravioli

Next up: antipasti.

Happy First Blogday to ME!

Today my blog turns one! And this is my 179th post. Who knew I had so much to say?!?!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pants: Still a WIP

Christmas is really eating into my Craft Lounge time. But I did manage to make another round of changes to the fit of my pants over the weekend that evolved rather spontaneously.

I actually have a little wardrobe crisis happening at the moment. There is a bit less of me to love these days, and the pants I own are starting to look "very not good". So, I decided to see if I could do something to help my pants fit better without a major overhaul. Since my waist and butt seem to be shrinking faster than anywhere else, I took one pair of pants in by altering the back center seam. This solved the waist and butt bagginess in one simple alteration without disrupting any pockets (the pants have pockets on the side seams). Now the pants look good - a nice smooth fit. Perfect.

The pants that I am making have 2 darts on each side in the back to account for my small waist but wide hips. But there was something just not right about how the back was lying, and I was hesitant about moving forward with the project until I figured it out. Since the altered pants fit so nicely, I decided to try the same alteration on the pants-in-progress. I took out one set of darts and instead took in the back center seam, tapering it so that the waist was smaller and the hips had more ease. Voila! Now the pants really fit well!

Anyway, inspired by my double success, I can finally get on with finishing the pants portion of the project and move on to the jacket.

And, over the holidays, you can bet I will be tinkering with all my trousers. I also have a stack of tops that I really like that are also getting too loose. So, there will be a good amount of wardrobe refashioning going on.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Santa's Kitchen: Playing with Hot Sugar

On Saturday, Phineas and I got candy making underway with 2 sweet treats - peanut brittle and caramels.
Boiling sugar, soon to be peanut brittle

Boiling sugar is not as easy as boiling water. For one thing water doesn't burn. And it also doesn't form crystals. Last year, I really struggled with making peanut brittle until I turned to Mark Bittman, one of my favorite food writers, for his guidance on this tricky treat. This year I really hit my stride with getting the sugar boiled but not burnt.

Add the nuts and toss to coat.

Spread on a greased pan and when it is cool, crack into pieces.

In addition to the brittle, Phineas has been wanting to make home made caramels for ages. So, this was our second project, and again we turned to Mark Bittman. It was easier than the brittle, and the results are wonderful. Homemade caramels have a lovely texture - softer than store bought - and a rich, buttery vanilla flavor. We sprinkled a good amount of sea salt on the caramels to really enhance the sweetness. It's a lovely contrast. MMmmmm.

Sugar, butter, cream
When it gets to the "softball" stage (245 deg) pour into a greased pan

Once cool, pop in the fridge to firm up and then cut.

The only pesty thing about the whole process was wrapping the candies, which we did in front of the tv. But I think it was worth it just to see a bowl of shiny candy wrappers.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Good JuJu For Dr Kiang

This is my home buying juju dance to bring Dr Kiang and Ivan some luck with the appraisal, etc. of their future home.

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Can't Believe I Didn't Post about this Sooner!

I was going to call this post "Best Use of a Thanksgiving Leftover" but then I completely forgot to write the post. Or maybe it was my health-conscious side blocking out all memory of this tasty death-bomb.

Not Phineas' stuffing. But I forgot to take photos...

I never really gave much thought to what to do with leftover stuffing other than reheating it with leftover gravy. However, I was watching the Food Network during Thanksgiving week and was inspired by this recipe for "Stuffing Bites". I ask you: what could be better than fried bread? Nothing! So, while at my parents' house on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, I tossed their leftover stuffing with an egg, rolled it into balls, and breaded them. Phineas shallow fried the breaded stuffing balls until golden. They were insanely - perhaps even immorally - good.

Our other very excellent use for stuffing this year was to make a crust for a turkey pot pie. In fact, this was my only contribution to Phineas' excellent pot pie. We just patted a layer of stuffing into the bottom of a casserole dish (like you would do to a graham cracker crust) and then added the turkey and veggies in gravy on top, and then topped it all with leftover mashed potato. Mmmmm....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nuts in Santa's Kitchen: Literally and figuratively

First try: Indian spiced nuts
Phineas has suggested, on more than one occasion, that I may have "a problem" with nuts. A cocktail lounge has only to offer nut mix to secure my good favor. And I eat more peanut butter than any adult I know who does not have children as an excuse. And don't even get me started on Nutella. But I digress...

On Saturday, I took a first stab at spiced nuts for our holiday gifts. I used a recipe that was heavy on the spices - garam masala, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne. I didn't tinker with it because I have suffered several spiced nut disasters in years past when trying to add hot almonds to room temperature egg white. Not good. And this recipe avoids that entirely.

Anyway, I did a double batch, and midway thru discovered that I had overloaded the pan. So, they are not the prettiest spiced nuts. However, the real test was the taste. I brought a batch over to my parents for a family gathering on Sunday. My aunt, a fellow indian food enthusiast, loved them. So did I. But Calliope and Erato thought they were "a little strange". Hmmmph. I guess that garam masala is not for everyone.

My next attempt will be more of a glazed nut, sticking to the more familiar territory of brown sugar and cinnamon.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pants in Progress

I feel like my blase posts don't really do justice to how happy I am with this project. Maybe that is because I am going really slowly and carefully.

Or maybe it is because black fabric with black thread
doesn't make for an exciting photo.

Over the weekend, I took the pants in a little more at the waist and narrowed the leg. As I suspected, after these alterations I had to trim and refinish the seam allowances. Oh well. Lesson learned. However, if I make duplicates of these pants, I will probably finish the allowances first, since it definitely is easier than finishing after sewing.

I also began assembly of the lining, which is exactly like making a second pair of pants, but on much lighter fabric. I haven't yet sewn the seam that I altered. So, that is the next step. Then I will be ready to attach the lining to the pants and do all the finishing work like the zipper, waistband and hems. I plan to do some work on it this weekend, but probably won't finish then. As I said, I am going very slowly and carefully.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cryptic Enough for You?

Geishas in artistic pursuits

Well, I had pretty much given up on the idea of making Christmas gifts (or at least the non-edible variety). I just don't sew fast enough. However, I picked up this fabric while I was sewing machine shopping to make something for someone... and that is all I can say.

Shopping for a New Sewing Machine

My possible future machine

On Friday, I began shopping for my next sewing machine, which will be an enormous step up from the introductory machine that I have been learning on.

The first stop was my local fabric shop. They exclusively sell Bernina sewing machines. After seeing pretty much the full Bernina line, I decided that the Activa 230 is the machine to beat in this competition, with the 220 as a good option if I decide not to spend quite so much. The 230 is computerized, sews beautifully (I've drooled over one in class), has several button hole styles, tons of stitches including many decorative ones, plus alphabet stitches, really good lighting... and a host of great features. But really, it is the "sews beautifully" part that is most important, and the Activa can handle lots of different fabrics well. Really, this machine and my current Brother are only related in the same way that a BMW and a Trabant can both be called cars.

I am going to do some online research to see if owners are generally happy with the 230, but right now this seems to be the best bang for the bucks (and it really isn't cheap, although my sewing shop has frequent sales).

Next, I am going to check out the comparable machines offered by Viking and Janome. Keep you posted...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Santa's Kitchen

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas rapidly approaching, Phineas and I are in the planning and testing phase of Christmas cooking. We have two major cooking projects coming up. One is our annual Christmas Eve seafood dinner with my family, which (long story) we are doing on the 20th. More on this in other posts. The other, and the one I am going to blog about today, is a project I like to think of as Santa's Kitchen.

Santa's Kitchen started innocently enough with a recipe for homemade chocolate truffles. After the first time Phineas and I made them, demand grew and they became an annual project. Last year, stumped for gift ideas for a few people, I decided that a box of handmade candy would be a thoughtful way to go. So we made extra truffles and I also tried my hand at peanut brittle. It was tricky, but, after several pounds of nuts and sugar, I finally made a successful batch around attempt #5.

Anyway, this year we decided to expand our list of recipients (if you are reading this, you stand a good chance of being "on the nice list" and if you are worried, you are free to petition or bribe us, whichever approach suits your personality and you think we will fall for). We also decided to ambitiously expand the offerings. Here's what we plan to include:
  • Chocolate Truffles
  • Peanut Brittle
  • Caramels
  • Phineas' Limoncello
  • Spiced Nuts
  • Peppermint Bark
Despite all my recent posts about Lyle's, I don't really get to play with hot sugar too often. So, I am really excited. Anyway, tomorrow we are going to take a first stab at some of these recipes. Hopefully I will have good news to report. But if it is anything like the peanut brittle, this may be a long series of posts!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stash report

My latest pattern acquisitions
I recently visited the top floor of Mood Fabrics. Usually, I hang around the main floor for the cottons. But upstairs they have wool... beautiful suiting fabrics, gorgeous knits, cashmere, coat weight wool... one more beautiful than the next. I was initially overwhelmed, but my mind immediately began planning all the beautiful clothing I will make myself.

Anyway, I am taking time off over the holidays, so I figured I should stock up on patterns/projects. When my pants and jacket come out beautifully (note how I said when and not if), I will probably want to rush into other similar projects, so better to be prepared with the above patterns. And then, of course, it will be back to Mood.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And All I Have to Show for it is an Injured Finger

I spent the whole weekend in either the kitchen or the craft lounge, but somehow, I have absolutely nothing to show for it except a cut on one finger from a careless moment with a sharp knife and a burn on my thumb from a careless moment with an iron.

Somehow the idea of taking a picture of any of my pies (now eaten) did not occur to me. And my pants-in-progress are hanging in the craft lounge, also unphotographed. Oh well.

This was not my best weekend in the craft lounge. The pants are coming along. I cut and marked all of the lining pieces for the pants and the jacket. For the pants, I took the advice of this book
and finished all the seam allowances before assembling the pieces, rather than as I go. It was tedious. Then I moved on to making all the darts, also on the advice of this book. I'm really not sure whether this is going to work out. Once I had sewn the front and back pieces of the pants together and tried it on, I decided it might need some further adjustments. I may end up taking it in at the seams, in which case I will probably trim and re-do the allowances. And I may change some of the darts.

Anyway, it was a frustrating weekend in the craft lounge. But to get back into the swing of things for the holidays, I am taking this Friday off to shop for my new sewing machine and will finish my pants over the weekend.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sweet Tart

In honor of Turkey Day, here is my simple recipe for homemade cranberry sauce. One of the best things about this recipe is that it makes the house smell truly wonderful!

  • 1 bag cranberries
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • 1/2- 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup water
Rinse and sort thru your cranberries discarding any that are mushy or too bruised. Zest the orange. Add all ingredients to a pot, squeezing in the orange juice. I usually start with 1/2 cup of sugar and add more as needed, since I like my cranberry sauce pretty tangy. Turn on high until the pot comes to a boil - the sugar should be dissolved and the cranberries should pop. Turn to medium-low and simmer until it has thickened (45 min or so) and coats the back of a spoon. Let cool and store in fridge.

This is about how it should look when done.

I like a little cranberry sauce with my turkey as much as the next girl, but I find that it is even better in the following applications:
  • serve as an accompanyment to brie or another soft cheese with bread
  • use store-bought puff pastry and make little cups in a mini muffin tin. put in a dollop of brie and a tsp of sauce and bake until golden and melted (or you could make a brie en croute with a layer of cranberry sauce and nuts)
  • Spread on pumpkin bread or other bread like jam (even better with a schmeer of cream cheese)
  • warm it up and serve over vanilla ice cream (oh so good!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Bday Dr Kiang!

Now that I have given it to her, I can post about the mini clutch/make-up bag I made for Dr Kiang for her Bday, which is today! Happy Birthday, my fabulous friend!

However, one significant issue with this post is that I completely forgot to take pictures of the finished product!! DOH! But here it is prior to assembly.

I have to make more ruffles like this. It really looked good! Dr Kiang, when you get a chance please send me a photo or two for my portfolio!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Turkey, pecans and more...

Yesterday's Pre-Thanksgiving turned out to be a bigger deal than Phineas and I had planned. Usually, it is just the two of us and maybe a friend or two indulging in too much gravy. But when my MIL learned that we were cooking, the event mushroomed and the rest of Phineas' family joined in.

Phineas' turkey was perfect and his stuffing was delicious. He added some walnuts for crunch and some currants which were languishing in the pantry for sweetness. It was to good effect. He really has a way with roasts. This bird was treated to a butter and herb massage.

The apple-pecan tart was also a hit. Even Miss Julia ate two slices, although I suspect that she was in it for the home-made whipped cream sweetened with vanilla sugar. I had to chase her away from the bowl more than once before dessert.

Is there any aroma more heavenly than pie in the oven? Doubtful.

Anyway, this tart was definitely the love child of apple pie and pecan pie. It has some of the qualities of both - the sweet nuttiness of pecan pie and the warm perfume of apple. I ended up using some Lyle's and some maple syrup, which worked out well. I think next time I would saute the apples less so that they were firmer in the tart.

I used the tart shell recipe in the NY Times article. It was essentially pie crust but with the addition of an egg yolk, which made it a much softer and pliable dough. I didn't love it as much as my crust, but for the purposes of this tart, it worked well. So, I give the recipe two thumbs up with a dollop of whipped cream.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Just in case you didn't realize the depth of my 13-year-old-self's obsession with this series... this is where I will be tonight, wearing my Twilight tee shirt.

In my defense, at least my tee is not from Hot Topic and has no images from the movie on it.

Update at 3pm: Thank you to Terpischory and Polyhymnia who emailed me the link to last night's South Park episode, which was all about the high school vampire phenomenon. I'm still cracking up laughing and even more thankful that I didn't get my tee at Hot Topic.

Pucker Up

For quite a while, Phineas has been planning to try his hand at homemade limoncello. He finally made good on this threat last night. It is a relatively straightforward procees and all you really need is sugar, water, lemon zest, alcohol and time.

For the lemons, Phineas used a mix of Meyer lemons and ordinary supermarket lemons. Really, the only work involved in this process is peeling or zesting a whole lotta lemons.

Did you ever think you would have a grown-up use for Everclear? Me neither. But limoncello really is the perfect application and gives this lowly grain alcohol an opportunity to get dressed up and act sophisticated.

And now for time. Phineas will turn or gently shake the limoncello-to-be every day or so for the next few weeks. Later, this Everclear and lemon peel mix will be diluted and refined with the addition of simple syrup (sugar & water) and vodka and bottled. Then more waiting while the flavors meld in the bottle. Phineas' finished limoncello should be ready for Santa's visit.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Random Pecan Pie Obsessing (Or I'm an Adult; I Can Have Dessert for Breakfast if I Want To)

No sooner had I finished the last slice of my pecan pie than this article appeared in the NY Times with a recipe for an apple-pecan tart.

Doesn't it look good? Yeah, it does.

A week or two before Thanksgiving, Phineas and I usually cook a turkey and all the sides that we just don't seem to get enough of on Thanksgiving itself. Yesterday, Phineas came home with our bird, so this weekend seems like the perfect time to take this tart for a test drive.

My fellow baker, Mar Mar, also reported back to me on the success of her pecan pie. She posed the following philosophical question: If you had pecan pie for breakfast, would you work off the calories throughout the day? My answer is a resounding: YES! Why the heck didn't I think of that?? What a perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee!

I fear that dangerous habits are about to be formed. Perhaps I shouldn't shout them aloud on my blog. But what's done is done. And soon the pecan tart will be, too...

Monday, November 17, 2008

No Show-n-Tell Today

I did a lot of work on my pants and jacket over the weekend, but have nothing at all to show you. So much of sewing is prep work. I cut the fabric for both garments and transferred all the markings from the patterns. Had I photographed it, all it would look like is a pile of black fabric with random chalk marks on it. Not too exciting

I also worked on a small project that is going to be a birthday gift for Dr Kiang, who reads this blog. So, I can't really show you that either. And now I am feeling rather self conscious about my small gift when Magenta, apparently, is buying her a house. Drat.

Sigh. It's gonna be a long week in the blogosphere.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Afternoon Fun

I have been living under a rock for the last year or so and somehow missed this slice of pop culture on the first go round. Thanks to Dr Kiang for turning me on to it.

I guess we now know how actors stay busy during a writers strike. You can find the other two hilarious episodes on Hulu.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lessons learned along the way

Downloading a pattern from the internet sounds like a good idea.

At first I thought that downloading would be the way to go for me - there is a certain amount of instant gratification to it. But then you have to tape all the frackin' pieces together. Uuugh! I'm becoming rather bitter about the whole thing; it took me an hour to tape all the the sheets of 8.5x11 together for this pattern. Given the limited amount of sewing time that I have, this is just too much time to spend dealing with scotch tape.

I've had a tough time with jackets lately. I just can't wear the styles that are being shown - jackets that button high on the chest/neck, are not shaped at the waist, and often have puffy or gathered sleeves. They look cute on some people, but just don't work on my figure - they make me look boxy and wide. Not flattering. Anyway, this is the pattern I am using for the jacket that will match my pants. I used it for my mom's shrug. The cut was pretty and I think that the jacket version will go well with my trousers and be flattering on me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pecan Pie Experiment II

On Monday night, I made another pecan pie. This time I used my usual pecan pie recipe (i.e. the one on the back of the corn syrup bottle) and just substituted Lyle's Golden syrup for the corn syrup.

The merit of the Karo recipe is that it's easy as... well, you know. The only change I made was the addition of a little kosher salt (1/4 tsp) to the batter and a pinch sprinkled on top before the pie went into the oven. As always, I egg washed, sugared and then covered the crust with a pie shield.

This time I remembered to take a picture
before the pie went into the oven...

It can be tricky to figure out when a pecan pie is done because the filling will still be liquid-like even when it is done. It sets as it cools. My surefire way to guarantee a pie that is done, but not overdone: check it with an instant read thermometer. An internal temperature of 200-205* is perfectly done. However, this time I was worried about whether the Lyle's would set the same as the Karo and by the time I took the pie out of the oven it was 208*.

...And after it came out, but not before I cut into the pie.
The results: Heaven. The flavor was spot-on. It may even have been slightly better than the corn syrup version thanks to some caramel and brown sugar notes. The texture, however, was slightly different. It was more firmly set than the karo pie, which made it seem ever so slightly jelly-like. I am guessing that this is because of the way cane syrup sets as contrasted with corn syrup. I would be totally happy with this pie for myself, but I think I am still going to tinker with it for the texture. Two options: take the pie out a little sooner (at 200*) or see if adding 1/4-1/2 a cup of cream would make it less firmly set.

But first, I still have half a pie to finish.