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.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Clio in 2-D

I never updated you on my pattern drafting class. Here's a recap.

Here's my muslin.

You already heard about week 1. In the following weeks we created our slopers using the measurements we took in week one, and then used it to make a pattern. From the pattern we made a muslin - a sample on cheap fabric - and then tinkered with the fit. Once you have the muslin perfected, you transfer the changes back to your pattern and sloper. So, now I have a pattern for pants that is custom fit to my body. All it needs is style details - pockets, belt loops, zipper placement, etc. in order for it to become real pants.

The class really taught me a lot about the way my body is shaped, why RTW pants don't fit and how I will always have to alter clothing and patterns because of my unique proportions. In fact, looking around the classroom, I realized how different each of us is shaped. No wonder pants don't fit!

Anyway, this weekend, I finally carved out a few hours to tinker a bit more with my sloper; mostly, I was working on the shape of the leg and now I am ready to actually make pants. I'm going to keep it simple for this first run since my focus is on the fit of the pants rather than any stylistic embelishments. I am just going to do a basic dress pants with a side zipper, narrow waistband and no pockets using some black gabardine I bought on sale over the summer. If the pants go well, I will also make a matching jacket from the same pattern I used to make my mom's shrug. Finally, something for myself!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pie Crust: A Turkey Day Primer

As the holidays approach, my thoughts tend to linger around the kitchen, planning for all the cooking and baking to be done. And, as you can tell, I get really preoccupied with pies. Lately I have been tinkering with the filling, but in the past it has been the crust that has been the focus of my experimentation.

I know there is a faction that believes that pie is all about the filling. But I cringe at the generic, insipid store-bought crust. A good crust can really enhance a tasty pie, providing texture, flavor and some heft.

After testing several variations of crusts - some with crisco, others with part crisco/part butter - I found that I got the best results from an all butter crust. Specifically, the all butter crust recipe in Phineas' White Dog Cafe Cookbook. One bonus is that this recipe comes out just fine in a food processor, which is the way to go for me since I hate cutting in the butter by hand.

The basic recipe is: 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 3 cups of flour, 2 tbsp sugar and a pinch of salt, plus ice water. I assume you know the basic procedure. Here are my tips:
  • First and foremost: do not overwork the dough at any stage of the process.
  • Cut the butter into little chunks and then stick it in the freezer for about 30 min or so to get it really cold
  • The larger the lumps of butter in the dough, the flakier the crust (ie pea-sized pieces)
  • After making, refrigerate your dough for at least 30 min. I usually make my dough days or weeks in advance and freeze it. Thaw overnight in the fridge.
  • When you are ready to roll out the dough, make sure to roll from the middle so that you are working the thickness from the center to the edges. Rotate the dough frequently.
  • After rolling out the dough and moving it to your pie plate, put it back in the fridge for 30 minutes. This is when I make the filling.
  • A final brush with egg wash or milk and a sprinkle of sugar will make for a nice brown, crackly sweet crust.
  • Finally, cover the pie crust with a pie crust guard or tin foil. To do otherwise is to invite a burnt crust with underdone filling.
People have told me that pie crust is too much effort - too hard to roll out, too hard to cut in the butter, not worth the effort... This crust is easy to make (thank you, Cuisinart), easy to roll, and comes out looking beautiful and tasting even better - no comparison with a prefab crust. Give it a try.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Boy Who Trick-or-Treated


Here's my nephew, Orpheus, in his Harry Potter costume on Halloween. He told me that he allowed every kid in his class to try on his Harry Potter glasses and even let one boy try them on twice!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What a Weird and Wild Trip

From the Obama Girl to Tina' Fey's Sarah Palin, this election has at the very least given us a good chuckle. Here's a smattering of my favorites...

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

And now we wait.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Pecan Pie Experiment I

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching, I felt compelled to begin working on my corn syrup-free pecan pie recipe this weekend.

Since the main ingredient in my normal recipe is corn syrup, I decided to forgo that recipe entirely. Instead, I settled on John Thorne's well-reviewed recipe, which calls for Lyle's Golden Syrup, rather than corn syrup. This recipe is a little more involved than the mix and dump recipe on the back of the Karo bottle.

First I had to boil the brown sugar, Lyle's syrup, rum and butter. While it cooled, I rolled out the pie crust, and then I beat the eggs with vanilla and salt.

Finally, I beat in the semi-cool syrup mixture. This was not nearly as easy as it sounds. Lyle's is a good deal thicker than corn or maple syrup. And when I boiled it with the sugar and it began to cool, it thickened even more. It required more beating to blend evenly into the egg mixture than I thought. Plus, it was a sticky process - pouring thick caramel into a mixer while it is still warm enough to pour, but not hot enough to curdle the eggs.... I got warm sticky caramel everywhere. OH, two changes I had made to the recipe: the addition of 1 tsp of vanilla and a sprinkle of kosher salt on the top before I bakes it. Both were good ideas.

Naturally, I forgot to take a picture of the pie when it was ready for the oven. However, the end result was pleasing, aside from some aesthetic issues. (What the heck happened to my crust?) The filling was less aggressively sweet, but more complex. The cream in the recipe and the excessive beating made it cook up lighter and puffier. Also, it was a very nutty pie. Yum.

Final evaluation: This pie was different from my normal pie. It was very good, but not exactly what I was looking for. The cream gave it a somewhat different texture. Plus dealing with the molten syrup was a messy hassle. So, I am not entirely sure I will do this again.

I think my next pie will be my regular recipe with Lyle's as a straight substitution. Stay tuned.