2nd Day of Craftmas: Coffee Cozy Tutorial

Well, sadly, we have a man down as of this week.  Minneapolis finally took it’s toll on my DIYnamic other half .  Despite having the best (and cutest) Sorel boots available, black ice is a cruel master.  Down she went, and in the process, fractured her elbow.  Needless to say, this will take a toll on our “12 Days of Craftmas” grand ideas.  However, I will soldier on and try my best to pick up the slack in Jaryn’s absence.  I can’t promise that I’ll get all 12 posts in — as I have many partially finished Christmas gifts.  Story of my life.  But, we’ll do the best we can and just enjoy the holiday season, eh?

Our second easy and inexpensive DIY Christmas gift is — drumroll, please — the lovable and very versatile and felt coffee cozy!  My friend Sarah-Henning came down this weekend to celebrate my birthday and we definitely felt the crafting spirit move us (ha! Get it?).  So, a quick trip to the craft stores and we were all set to get cozy.  (Another one!  So, punny today.)  All you’ll need for this project is a pack of felt (very cheap at JoAnn’s or Michaels — and now they even have textured felt!  Fun!), various thread, fabric glue, scissors, buttons, thin elastic, and your imagination!  First, you’ll need to decide what types of things you’d like for your coffee cozy decoration.  Here are a few of mine before they were glued/stitched down.

Felt Mustache

Felt Mustache

Zombie Coffee Cozy

Felt Zombie

Here is my mustache and Honey Badger template, if you’d like to whet your whistle with those first.  (Sorry, I didn’t have time to actually do them up nice in Illustrator.)  If you aren’t an artist or just some inspiration, print some pictures and just use them as traceable guides.  Cut out all of your small pieces.  I used a thin Sharpie to trace everything on the back of the felt in order to be able to cut with clean lines.  Use Ziplocs to keep each set of images’ pieces together.you’ll need to cut out a template for your cozy.

Next, you’ll choose your background colors for the cozy.  The main cozy consists of two pieces of felt, the top panel being slightly smaller than the bottom panel.  Here is my template, if you’d like to use mine.  Once you have all your felt pieces cut out, you can begin to glue your decorations to the top panel of the main cozy.  The glue we used is Beacon Fabri-Tac.  It’s much like hot glue without the need for electricity.  It dries very quickly and is super durable.  Just be careful of the “tails” that form as you pull the bottle away.

Once you have all your decorations glued down, and have given them time to dry, you’ll need to do any decorative stitching.  For example, I had to do some embroidery stitching on my sock monkey.

Stitching my sock monkey accents.

Stitching my sock monkey accents.

Next, it’s time to stitch the elastic loops onto the right end of the cozy between the top and bottom panels.  You really want to make sure that your stitching is catching the elastic.  I used the shortest stitch length I have on my Featherweight and went back and forth about four times.

Stitching the elastic loops onto the end of the cozy

Stitching the elastic loops onto the end of the cozy

You can also hand stitch this, if you don’t have a sewing machine.  Next, you ‘ll need to either glue or machine stitch the top panel to the back panel.  I used my sewing machine and a the longest stitch setting, backstitching at the ends.

Stitching the coffee cozy panels.

Stitching the coffee cozy panels.

Trim all the threads and then pick out your two decorative buttons.  This is a great opportunity to use up some of those single buttons you have sitting in a drawer, as mismatched buttons are just as cute!  Hand stitch your two buttons onto the left end.

Sew your buttons onto your cozy.

Sew your buttons onto your cozy.

Voila, you’re done!  Make as many as you can think of decorations for!  If you’re like Sarah-Henning and I, you’ll have trouble falling asleep because you’ll keep thinking of cute decorations for your next cozy.

Sock monkey and old microphone coffee cozy

Sock monkey and old microphone coffee cozy

Honey Badger and bicycle coffee cozy

Honey Badger and bicycle coffee cozy

Owl and zombie coffee cozy

Owl and zombie coffee cozy

Power On and mustache coffee cozy

Power On and mustache coffee cozy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee cozies galore!

Coffee cozies galore!

More cozies!

More cozies!

 

Last cozies!

Even more cozies!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only thing left to do, is to figure out your presentation.  If you’re giving them to co-workers, slap a gift tag on them and you’re done.  Sarah-Henning came up with the winner gift tag slogan….”Hope your Christmas is good to the last drop!”  If you’re giving them to friends or family, you might consider purchasing a mug, some coffee beans, and/or a coffee gift card to go with your lovely cozy.  So versatile!  If you decide to “get cozy,” please post some pics, we’d love to see them!

1st Day of Craftmas: Making A Simple Ceramic Plate

Who doesn’t love commemorating a special occasion with a ceramic plate?  Special occasions just scream ceramic plates, don’t they?  There are lots of cute variations floating around on Etsy to celebrate engagements, weddings, births, etc.  In addition to highlighting special dates/events, you can also capture family phrases or sayings.  Creating one of these plates is fairly fast, easy, and inexpensive.  So, if you’re still looking for that gift for the hard-to-buy-for, why not give this a try?

I knew last year when my sister announced that she was pregnant, that I wanted to find something that said, “Home is where my grandma is.”  The hard part?  In our family, grandparents of the female persuasion do not go by “grandma.” They go by “grangi.”  What were the chances I could something that said, “Home is where my Grangi is?”  I’ll tell you – nil, zilch, zero.  My next thought was, “Why don’t I just have something commissioned from Etsy.”  I’ll tell you why.  Firstly, you have to be forward thinking enough to request it two months in advance.  Yup, negatronium.  Secondly, you apparently need to make more money than a highly appreciated, underpaid high school teacher.  So, you know what came next, dear reader…..DIY!

I’d taken some pottery classes in high school.  (Ok, in reality I think I made A pot in ONE class – which, in all its ugliness, my mom still has sitting on a shelf.  Bless her heart.)  But I figured, why not give it a go?  Since I am not lucky or skilled enough to have a wheel or kiln, I decided to explore the world of polymer clay where all you need is an imagination and an oven.  That’s my kind of clay.

So, here is what you’ll need to make your own fabulous ceramic plate!

2 Types of ribbon (I used one patterned and one solid), acrylic paint in various colors, modpodge, white oven-bake Sculpey polymer clay, alphabet & decorative stamps, paint brushes (very thin for lettering and thick for glazing), and clay molding tools

First, you’ll have to decide what shape you want your plate to be.  I went with the traditional ’round’ because I knew I had a lot of things lying around in that shape that I could use for a mold.  I used the top of a mid-size pot.  Before starting, I cut a circular piece of wax paper and laid it into the bottom of the pot so that it would be easy to remove the clay circle when I was finished.  Next, I took the block of Sculpey and pressed it evenly into the bottom of the skillet, carefully trying to ensure that my circle was the same thickness everywhere.  (So sorry not to have pictures of these steps — my hands were goopey!)

When I was finished and it was relatively smooth, I used the edges of the wax paper to pull it out, flip it over onto another piece of wax paper, and put it, smooth side down, back into the skillet.  Then, I worked on smoothing out the other side.  (Note:  Since I knew that I was going to paint mine, I wasn’t worried about using my hands to do the smoothing.  This, however, did mean that the clay did not stay pristinely white.  If you want your dish background to stay white, use clay sculpting tools or plan on painting is back to white!  The wooden tools you’d need are inexpensive and can be found at Michaels.)

Because I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to freehand letters, of that size, to look nice.  I decided to utilize stamps.  I bought a stamp alphabet in a font I thought looked cute and whimsical.  (Note:  My letters are fairly small, which meant that painting them required patience and a very steady hand.  Purchasing larger or bolder letters would help with this, but you’d need a bigger plate.)  In addition, I knew that I wanted to put a peacock feather on the plate (my sister’s last name is Peacock).  I figured that I would have to freehand that.  But, as luck would have it, I found a peacock feather stamp.  After looking through the samp aisle in Michaels, I realized that no matter what your need, “There’s a stamp for that.”  There are literally, thousands of stamp possibilities.  You’ll be able to find something that is applicable and cute for your own plate, I’m sure.

So, I roughly laid out where I wanted each letter to be by placing them (wooden side down, first) on the circle, one word at a time.

Once I’d figured out the layout, I turned them over one at a time and pressed them down firmly into the clay.  You’ll quickly see that the pressing firmly means you’ll have some lines here and there from the edges of the stamp.  Don’t fret!  Just gently smooth those out with your finger or a tool once you’ve pressed everything.

Lastly, you’ll need to use something circular and hollow (I used a small test tube from work) to make the two holes at the top for the ribbon.  And, then you are ready to bake!

Ready to bake!

Place the plate in an oven safe dish and then into the oven.  I used a large, Pyrex casserole dish.  Use the instructions on the clay to determine the time spent in the oven.  When it is finished baking, carefully remove it and allow it to cool thoroughly on a cookie rack.

Now, you are ready to paint!  There isn’t really any trick to this.  A steady hand and painter’s tape, if you need it, are key.  Once you’ve finished painting it and the paint has dried thoroughly, you’ll need to coat it with about four layers of Modpodge to get that glazed ceramic look.  Make your modpodge layers very thin.  You don’t want excess to pool in the recessions of your stamped letters or decorations.

When the modpodge has dried and you are satisfied with it’s sheen, add your ribbon (I used two — a blue and a peacock print) and hang!  Voila, you can now call yourself commemorated!

The finished project — look how it gleams!

And I’m Back…Dairy Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

So apparently the gauntlet has been thrown. I too apologize that I’ve been MIA for so long. Life got in the way and well, I got a little lazy. I promise I have lots of holiday baking in the works, so you can expect some good posts throughout the next few months. And while Jen’s hat was nice and all, it won’t fill your belly with happiness now will it?

A couple of months ago my middle sister was having a rough go of it. She’d just moved to a new city and was dealing with a deadbeat landlord and all the change a move can bring. I decided I was going to make a care package for her since I always love getting mail and love it even more when said mail is in present form. I figured it would make a crappy day or week seem a little bit better. The only problem is that due to my precious little niece’s milk allergy, my sister isn’t able to eat any dairy. This threw a wrench into my plan to bake something tasty for the care package.

After a few searches online I settled on some chocolate peanut butter brownies. I was a little apprehensive since the ingredient deck seemed a little odd, but they turned out great! You can’t really tell that there is no butter or flour…there’s just chocolately goodness.  And since there is no flour, these are gluten free as well. So go ahead, make some brownies and while you are at it, send a care package to someone to let them know you are thinking of them :)

Dairy Free Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies

From About.com

For the Brownie Base:

  • 1 16-ounce jar smooth almond butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pure unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 cup dark dairy-free chocolate chips (try Whole Foods)

For the Peanut Butter Filling:

  • 4 T. dairy-free gluten-free soy margarine, such as Earth Balance
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. vanilla extract

Preparation:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Lightly grease a 9″x13″ baking dish and line with parchment paper

2.  In a large bowl, beat the almond butter until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating in each egg. Add the maple syrup and vanilla, beating until all ingredients are incorporated  In another small bowl, sift together the cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. Slowly add this mixture to the almond butter mixture, beating until just combined and smooth. Fold in the dairy-free chocolate chips using a spatula.

3. In another large mixing bowl, mix together the  soy margarine, powdered sugar, smooth peanut butter, salt, and vanilla extract until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour  brownie batter into the prepared pan. Drop dollops of the peanut butter filling onto the batter. With a knife, very carefully swirl the peanut butter filling into the brownie filling. This can be done by starting at one corner and slowly going down in a row and then over and up again.  Imagine making a big squiggly line across the pan. Don’t mix, just make a decorative swirl.

5. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow for the brownies to cool completely before trying to cut them.

My swirls weren’t so great!

Dishing up the “Comfort Slouchy”, with a side of apology.

Ok, I know.  It’s been a long time.  I’m SO sorry, dear readers!  Just when you thought I might actually have one or two good ideas, I disappear.  I really have no excuse.  It just all happened so fast.  August 23rd dawned, and before I could duck, school up and hit me like a mac truck.  And sadly, the blog got tossed to the back burner.  The beginning of the school year is always such a rough time for me.  I’m exhausted when I get home because I’ve lost my teaching stamina over the summer and I have little free time because I’m starting with a whole batch of fresh, un-molded minds.  But, I’m happy to announce that things have now settled down and I’m back in the saddle again.

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My sad, “won’t you please forgive me” face.

You’re probably thinking that for this, my grand re-entrance, I have something really special for you.  You know, to make up for the last two months in which I completely and selfishly ignored you.  Well, you’d be wrong.  If I were a better, more organized, and less sleep-dependent person, It would be a totally different story.  Instead, today, I’m re-testing the crafting waters with only my metaphorical big toe.  And while I cannot deliver you silver bells and golden whistles today, I can assure you that as the holidays draw near, I am again amassing my crafty strength.  I made myself a new lab coat for the start of school, several new skirts, and two leather bags.  Posts forthcoming!  I also have a lot of DIY ideas for the holidays that I’m going to blog about in my “12 Crafty Days of Christmas” (throughout December) series to help motivate me to get everything done on time and to hopefully give you some ideas for wonderful, homemade presents for your loved ones.  So, please stay tuned!

So what do I have for you today, you ask?  Well, while it’s not Mt. Craftmore, I am pretty proud of it.  I would like to present the first thing that I have EVER knitted out of my own handspun angora yarn (50% Merino, 50% angora — from my rabbit Sweet Pea to be exact).

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Comfort Slouchy, in effect!

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I call this hat my “Comfort Slouchy” because I plan to wear it….well, everyday.  It’s warm, comfortable, and wonderfully soft.  I feel like a have a cloud on my head.  And, It’s just starting to develop the fantastic halo that is characteristic of angora yarn.  I’m sure as time goes on it will get even more fuzzy.

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Angora “halo” is blooming.

I made it using the beginnings of the pattern It All Comes Together on Ravelry.  But, there was a slight error in the chart for the crown decreases, so I just did my own thing when I got to that point.  (Note:  the wonderful author of the pattern sent me the updated chart soon after.  So nice!)  Overall, I’m wonderfully happy with it.  With my next handspun skein, I plan to make a (somewhat) matching cowl.  I’m trying to decide between the Stockholm Scarf, Big Herringbone Cowl, and A Noble Cowl patterns on Ravelry.  I’m so undecided.  Do you think I have to match my hat with a lacey-type pattern?  What are your thoughts?

Ok, thanks again for hanging in there with me.  I know that I have a lot to make up for.  And, I’m going to make you proud.  Really, I am.  And speaking of slacking….I’m not the only one who’s been absent around here.  I want you to make a note of which one of us came back to you first.   It was me.  I came back for you.  Not Jaryn.  Remember that.  Clearly, I love you more……and I win.

See, you really can’t trust Jaryn. Clearly, she consorts with rodents.

I hope everyone’s been having a fantastically, wonderful Fall.  Here’s to a craftastic holiday season!

Jen

Key Lime Pie Cake

I know it goes against girl code, but I don’t love chocolate. Some chocolate is ok, I just don’t crave it like some people. Given the choice between a chocolate or fruit dessert, I’ll always go for the fruit choice. I also tend to like cake more than pies. Cakes come with frosting, which I have a serious weakness for.

My friend and I hosted a University of Texas picnic last weekend. I signed up to make a dessert and wanted to make something summery since the weather here has been fantastic and we planned to grill on the back patio at our apartment complex. I came across a picture for this  Key Lime Pie Cake recipe during one of the many hours I spend on Pinterest and pinned it because I like tackling any cake recipe that has multiple components. The finished result was delicious. The curd is really nice a tangy and is offset nicely by a fluffy white cake. I didn’t love the frosting, but it was tasty. I think I might experiment with a regular buttercream if I make this cake again. The graham cracker crumbs are a nice addition and really do make the cake taste like a key lime pie. Everyone at the picnic was very impressed that I’d made the cake, which to me is the sign of a job well done.

Key Lime Pie Cake

 

This cake has several components and is best tackled a day ahead of serving it.

Key Lime Curd

Makes 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of 1 limes
1/2 cup Key Lime juice
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

Directions

Add all ingredients except butter to a saucepan over Low heat. Whisk to combine. Add butter. Continue whisking gently but constantly, heating slowly, until curd thickens and reaches 160°F on an instant read thermometer. Remove from heat.

For the smoothest curd, pour through a fine mesh strainer. Transfer to a storage container. Cover and refrigerate overnight before use. Curd keeps up to 1 week in the fridge.

Lime Scented White Cake

Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 2 9-inch cakes

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk ( you can make buttermilk substitute using milk and lemon juice)
4 large egg whites
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 1/2 cups sugar
zest of 1 lime
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with baking spray.

Whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In another bowl, measure out buttermilk, then whisk in egg whites and lime juice.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat sugar and zest on low until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add butter and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla extract. With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by 1/2 buttermilk mixture. Continue alternating dry and wet ingredients (ending with dry ingredients), beating just to incorporate each new addition. Once all ingredients are added, beat on medium speed for 2 minutes to aerate the batter.

Divide batter evenly between pans. Bake at 350°F for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Can be made ahead. If making ahead, wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and place in a zip top bag. Can be stored at room temperature for a day, or frozen for several weeks.

Graham Cracker Crumble

Ingredients

6 graham crackers
pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions

Preheat over to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper.

Break graham crackers into quarters and pulse in a food processor until reduced to fine crumbs. Add salt and brown sugar. With processor running, pour in melted butter. Pulse until mixture resembles wet sand.

Dump mixture onto prepared pan and press mixture firmly to form a flat ‘crust’. Bake at 350°F for 6 minutes. Remove from oven and crumble into pieces with a fork. Return to oven and bake 2 more minutes. Cool completely. Can be made ahead and stored in an air-tight zip top bag until needed.

Lime Swiss Meringue Buttercream

Makes about 5 cups, or enough to frost a 9-inch layer cake

Ingredients

6 large fresh egg whites
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-Tablespoon cubes
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon key lime juice
lime zest
Pinch of salt

Directions

Fill medium saucepan with about an inch of water and bring to a simmer. Add egg whites and sugar to the metal bowl of a stand mixer. Set bowl over simmering water and whisk constantly until sugar has dissolved and mixture reads 140°F on an instant read thermometer.

Attach bowl to stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, beat on medium speed until a glossy white meringue with stiff peaks forms and the bowl no longer feels warm to the touch (about 10-15 minutes). Switch to the paddle attachment. Beating on medium-low speed, add butter one piece at a time, letting each piece incorporate before adding the next. Once all butter is incorporated, scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula. Continue beating for 10-15 minutes until smooth.

Once smooth, add vanilla, lime juice, salt and zest. Beat until smooth.

(If at any point your buttercream looks curdled or soupy – don’t panic ! If it looks curdled, just keep beating. It will come together. If you’ve been beating it for 15 minutes and it’s still soupy, pop the whole bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes, then continue beating. Repeat as much as necessary until you get a smooth buttercream.)

To Assemble:
Place one layer of the cake on a cake pedestal or serving platter. Top with half of the key lime curd. Don’t spread the curd all the way to the edge of the cake. Using a pastry bag, pipe swirls around the entire bottom layer. This will keep your curd in place and make frosting the cake a lot easier. Place the next layer of cake on top. Frost the edges of the cake with your buttercream. Don’t frost the top of your cake. Add the rest of the lime curd to the top of the cake. Using your pastry bag, pipe swirls or rosets around the edge of the cake.  Place your cake pedestal on a cookie sheet or piece of parchment paper. Using your hands, push handfuls of your graham cracker crumbs along the outside of the cake. I had enough extra frosting that I piped swirls around the bottom of the cake as well. To garnish the top of the cake take a lime slice and cut through half of it to twist it. Place on top of cake. Wow your friends :)

Lemon Raspberry Cupcakes

There are just some things that are meant to go together…lemon and raspberry are two flavors that I just love together. When I was in business school, me and four of my girlfriends decided to take our holiday break and explore New Zealand and Australia together for five weeks. Leading up to our trip we had several dinners where we’d eat, drink too many glasses of wine and plan the trip. I’d come across a cake posting on Tastespotting that looked ridiculously good, so I decided for our next Australia dinner I’d make it. I found the original recipe here. It was a blueberry lemon cake, but I decided I’d sub in raspberries since I like those flavors together better. The result was so good my friends deemed it the facegasm cake. It’s become our go to treat when we get together now. While we are all spread out across the country now, we’ve done a good job this first year out of business school getting together every few months. Since I live in what is normally the frozen tundra, I knew that they needed to come visit me in the summer or I would never get them here.

A few weekends ago they all made it to Minneapolis. We had reason to celebrate as two of my friends were celebrating birthdays. I decided that we needed a cake and some cupcakes for the occasion. I wasn’t sure if the Lemon Raspberry cake would translate well into cupcakes or not, but I gave it a try.  I halved the recipe since I had also made a cake, so that’s why some of the measurements seem a little unconventional. The result was just as good as the regular cake with built in portion control. Facegasms were had all around :)

Lemon Raspberry Cupcakes

Ingredients

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1  cup fresh raspberries

1/8 cup sour cream

1/8 cup  milk (I use skim)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/6 teaspoon pure lemon extract (just fill 1/3 tsp half full)

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 cup (1/2  stick) unsalted butter, softened about 20 minutes out of refrigerator

6 tablespoons of white sugar

1 large eggs

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line cupcake pans with cupcake liners.  Sift dry ingredients into medium bowl. Transfer 1 tablespoon flour mixture to larger bowl. Add fresh raspberries and toss to coat them with flour. Set remaining flour mixture and blueberries aside.

Stir milk, sour cream, vanilla extract, lemon extract and lemon zest in small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar, until pale yellow and very fluffy, about 5 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, until well combined. Mix in flour mixture alternately with milk mixture, starting and ending with flour mixture. Stir until just combined. Gently fold in raspberries. Divide batter equally cupcake pan.

Bake  until toothpick inserted into centre comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Cool in pans on racks for about 10 minutes, then take the cakes out and cool on wire rack.

Zesty Lemon Frosting

Ingredients

1/2 cup soft unsalted butter

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 1/2 cups icing sugar (or 3 for  sweeter version)

23 ml fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons whipping cream (35% cream)

1/4 teaspoon pure lemon extract

pinch salt

1 drop of yellow food coloring

Directions

Cream butter and lemon zest in bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, about 3 minutes. Slowly add icing sugar, mixing on low speed for about 2 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and beat on med-high for 3-4 minutes until very fluffy. If using food coloring add a drop or two, then beat until blended.

Lemon Curd 

3 large egg yolks, strained

Zest of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup lemon juice

6 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces

Directions

  1. Combine yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Whisk to combine. Set over medium heat, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon, making sure to stir sides and bottom of pan. Cook until mixture is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon, 5 to 7 minutes.
  2. Remove saucepan from heat. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring with the wooden spoon until consistency is smooth.
  3. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd to avoid a skin from forming; wrap tightly. Let cool; refrigerate until firm and chilled, at least 1 hour.

To assemble:
Cut out a round circle from each cupcake. Save the piece you cut out. Add about a tbsp of lemon curd and replace with the piece of cake you cut out. Using a pastry bag, pipe a generous swirl of lemon frosting on top of the cupcake. Top with a raspberry.

Luscious lemon curd

Seared Scallops over Cauliflower Puree with Wilted Spinach and Roasted Asparagus

I’m a pretty competitive person, I freely admit it. This causes me to make bets with people quite often. I had some pictures that I wanted the guy I’ve been dating to help me hang up in my living room. He told me we’d need picture wire. I live pretty close to a CVS and he suggested we just run to CVS and pick up some. Not so fast my friend, CVS isn’t going to have picture wire I told him. He persisted that he thought they would. To which I replied, “wanna make a bet?” Hands were shook and off to CVS we went. Along the way we determined that the payoff would be whoever lost had to cook dinner for the other person. I was fully prepared to bask in winner’s glory. When we got to CVS he walked straight to the home section and plucked a box containing picture wire off the rack. I was flummoxed. Who knew drugstores carried picture wire? He later told me smugly that he would have bet me $5 million dollars he was so sure. Punk. Alas, my pictures were hung and I made him a very tasty dinner to settle our bet.

 

Seared Scallops over Cauliflower Puree with Wilted Spinach and Roasted Asparagus

Cauliflower Puree

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower (about 3 lbs.), cut into florets

2 Yukon gold potatoes (about 8 ounces), peeled and diced

kosher salt and fresh pepper

1/2 cup of butter

1/2-1 cup of half and half or fresh cream

Directions

Set up a collapsible steamer over a pot of water. Toss the cauliflower and potato and put in the steamer. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and steam the potatoes and cauliflower until completely tender, about 15 minutes stove top. Cool slightly. Puree the vegetables using a blender or food processor, in batches if needed,  with butter and a couple tablespoons of cream, until smooth and creamy. Season with more salt and pepper, if needed.

Meanwhile, cook 4 strips of bacon in the mircrowave, for about 4 minutes until the bacon is crispy. Chop up into small pieces and reserve.  Save your bacon drippings for your spinach.

Roasted Asparagus

1 lb. of asparagus

salt and pepper

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic

2 tbsp of olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the bottom ends of the asparagus and give them a good wash.

2. Lay the asparagus spears out in a single layer in a baking dish or a foil-covered roasting pan. Drizzle olive oil over the spears, roll the asparagus back and forth until they are all covered with a thin layer of olive oil. Sprinkle with minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Roll the asparagus around so that the ingredients are evenly distributed.

3. Place pan in oven and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned and tender when pierced with a fork. Drizzle with a little fresh lemon juice before serving.

Seared Scallops

1. Since I live in the midwest, fresh scallops are hard to come by. Most of the ones found in the grocery stores have been frozen before and are soaked in a liquid that keeps them looking white.  They need to be rinsed thoroughly  and patted dry.   Season both sides with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a cast iron skillet on high heat. Add 1 tbsp of oil and 1 tbsp of butter to the pan.

3. Add your scallops, making sure not to crowd the pan, which lowers the pan’s temperature.

4. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side until they have a golden caramelized color. Be careful not to overcook them because once you take them off the heat they will continue to cook.

Wilted Spinach

Add your leftover bacon grease,from cooking the bacon earlier, to a pan over medium heat. Add in a bunch of spinach and season with salt and pepper. Once the spinach wilts, take off the heat.

 

To assemble: 

Add a generous portion of cauliflower puree on the plate. Top with wilted spinach and asparagus. Then add your seared scallops. Garnish by sprinkling your chopped bacon over the top. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handbags Galore!

As you know, I love making handbags.  In fact, I’m in the beginning stages of getting an Etsy storefront up so that I can begin selling my handbags and angora creations.  (So, if you like any of the bags below and want one of your own, let me know.  They make great gifts!  Wink, wink.)  Anyhoo, I’m constantly looking for reasons to craft a handbag.  Luckily, my friend Gwen just recently celebrated her birthday.  Unfortunately, she’s had quite a trying summer dealing with dental visits and a sprained ankle.  Therefore, I really wanted to make her something special.  I decided to whip her up a cute Buttercup Bag (Made by Rae) in a gray IKEA fabric that I think has a cool, urban feel with a muted, lavender lining.

Gwen’s Birthday Bag!

One of the things I’ve changed from the original pattern, is to add a much larger, divided pocket to the lining.  I’m a BIG fan of organization in handbags.  I need a lot of pockets and dividers to keep everything straight.

In addition to the bag, I also surprised Gwen with her finished skirt, made from a Simplicity pattern.  Isn’t she cute?  I just love sewing for friends.

Gwen, in her new duds.

I also needed to make a “thank you” present for my friend, Jill’s, mom who helped us out tremendously by driving our sick lab back and forth from our vet to the emergency vet while we were frantically trying to get home from the beach.  Needless to say, she was a lifesaver!  Jill mentioned that one of her favorite colors is blue.  So, I used a beautiful, royal blue IKEA fabric paired with a bright red lining fabric for her Buttercup Bag.  I decided not to do the button flab embellishment on her bag, and instead, added a line of white bias binding.  I think it turned out really well.

Carol’s Bag

Buttercaup bag….now with more pockets!

Last but not least, I decided I needed a new overnight bag for my trip up to D.C. to visit my friend, Alia.  (See….any excuse to make a bag and I’ll take it.)  I had really been wanting to make the Amy Butler Cosmo Bag from her book Style Stitches – check!  Here are the fabrics I picked out:

My favorite fabric for this bag, though, was a blue and white houndstooth that I decided to use as the inner part of the pockets.  Who doesn’t love a pop of houndstooth?

Pop of houndstooth in the pockets

I love the way this bag turned out and the fabric colors just scream summer to me.  Overall, I’m fairly happy with the bag, though, if I made it again I would give it a bit more structure and some more internal organization.  But, it served it’s purpose well and a good time was had by all in D.C.!

Amy Butler Cosmo Bag

Side pocket

 

Of course, I couldn’t have done it without the careful oversight of my OCD border collie, Sadie.  Doesn’t she look crazy?  Yup, that’s my girl.  Stay tuned for my next post — summer skirts!

Crazy Sadie

 

 

 

Spinning Jenni’s Fiber Adventures

This year, for the first time, I managed to make it to the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival, a.k.a. “A Fiber Lovers Paradise.”  It. Was. Amazing.  There were sheep, and alpacas, and goats, and rabbits.  It was a veritable petting zoo, which you know I’m all about.  Todd had to keep a close eye on me, as I was casing all the alpaca stands trying to figure out how shove a cria in my pocket to take home with us.  Here were a few of my favorite furry friends:

Baaaaaaaahhh!

And then, you could look in any direction and see glorious fiber and yarn.  In fact, there was so much fiber goodness that it was a little overwhelming.  I simply couldn’t choose between all the yarns.  They were all so beautiful.  So, I decided to stick with my game plan of buying my first whole sheep fleece.

For those of you uninitiated to the world of fiber, buying your first fleece is akin to entering the Tour de France as a young rider.  It’s exciting, daunting, and very scary.  Since I’ve never purchased a whole fleece before, I really had no idea what I was looking for.  I know……shocking, right?  There were hundreds of trash bags full of shorn sheep fleeces to dig through.  I wish I’d been smart enough to get a picture.  I was quickly reaching “sheep fleece saturation point.”  So, lacking in any formal knowledge, I did what I do when picking a wine — choose based on aesthetics.  I was able to narrow down my choices because I wanted a white fleece so that I could blend it with my angora rabbit wool.  Then, I just looked at the names of the sheep and let my fingers be my guide.  I settled on four pounds of the softest wool I’ve ever had the pleasure of groping.  My fleece is from a lovely little Cormo sheep named Lillian.  (Each fleece comes with a label telling you the weight, sheep’s name, and farm that it came from.)  Here is my bounty:

Four pounds of Lillian the Sheep

The first step towards turning raw sheep into wonderful yarn is a very long washing process.   You have to get out all the lanolin (natural oil), dirt, vegetable matter, and other nastiness that I won’t explain, but you know…… The tips of Lillian’s wool was especially dirty, so before washing it, I clipped those off.

Clip the tips

Ready for the wash

You have to be very careful when washing wool.  If you’re not careful with the temperature changes and agitation, you can end up with felt, which probably some of you are familiar with if you’ve ever put a wool sweater in a dryer and ended up with a baby cardigan.  Doh!  One thing that helps, is putting wool into lingerie bags.  So, after clipping in they went.

Packed into lingerie bags

Since the plan was to blend this Cormo with my angora, I wasn’t too concerned with preserving the lock structure the wool.  That meant I could use the washing machine instead of large tubs.  Each batch of wool was given three separate, 30-minute soaks in hot water and laundry detergent.  At the end of each 30-minutes, I’d put the wool through a short spin cycle to remove as much dirty water from it as possible.

Wool in the washing machine

The fourth soak was in clean, lukewarm water to rinse out any remaining soap.  Then, I spread out the wool on sweater racks to dry.

Drying wool

Washing an entire fleece is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you.  You have to commit.  It is a LONG process.  I have now finished, four loads of Lillian, and I still probably have two more loads to go.  Ugh.  Yes, I purchased Lillian in May.  Yes, it is now July.  Touch of the ADD, what can I say?  But, the effort has been so worth it — I now have a HUGE plastic bin full of heavenly, cloud-light, soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom, wool.

Big box o’ fluff

What am I going to do with all of this, you might ask?  My plan is to eventually spin it into a bulky wool that I can use to make the sweater Cameron Diaz wears in “The Holiday.”  I love this sweater!  I’ll probably have it done by 2035.

Washing all of that fiber has inspired me to get some spinning done.  Since I have a bit of a backlog with my angora, the mission was to use up as much as possible.  I started with a small skein for my mom that was 50% alpaca and 50% angora.  The picture’s color is a little washed out — it’s actually lavender.  I think she plans to make something for my niece with it.

Then, I spun up a skein of angora, silk, and merino in baby blue on my spindle while we were at the beach.  And this week, I spun up a 50/50 skein of angora and merino wool on my wheel.  I was really, really pleased with the latter.  My ability to keep a consistent thickness of yarn is definitely improving.  There is definitely still a variation, but it’s less apparent.

After winding both of these skeins into balls, I started knitting up the “It All Comes Together” slouchy hat with a twisted stitch rib in the 50/50 mix.  While you can see the diameter variation, I think it still looks okay.  Look at the halo starting to form — so soft!

With the remaining 50/50 and the blue, I plan to knit up the Ski, Bunny, Ski! hat from Ravelry:

Ski, Bunny, Ski! hat on Ravelry

It’s been so nice to crank up the AC and pretend that it’s snowing outside instead of this nasty 100 degree weather we’ve been having.  Hopefully, it’ll start to cool down soon and I can really start picturing fall and wearing all these wonderful knit garments!

 

 

 

Nanimo Bars

A few years ago my friend Liza was moving to Vancouver and we decided to have a Canadian themed going away party. I love a good theme party, so I took the opportunity to go all out. I dressed up as a Mountie and  tried to find some Canadian themed recipes. I stumbled upon Nanimo bars in the search for a Canadian dessert. They are a delicious combo of a lot of tasty items. The bottom layer is a chocolatey, coconut, nutty, graham cracker combo. The middle layer is vanilla custard and the top layer is more chocolate. What’s not to like? July 1st was Canada Day and I happen to be dating a Canadian so I decided to make the Nanimo bars again. He happens to be allergic to walnuts which has kept him from ever being able to try Nanimo bars in the past, so I substituted in almonds. The result was just as tasty! So go ahead, give ‘em a try, eh?

Bottom Layer:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup granulated white sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 cup sweetened or unsweetened coconut (shredded or flaked)

1/2 cup walnuts, almonds or pecans, coarsely chopped

Middle Layer:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2 – 3 tablespoons milk

2 tablespoons  vanilla pudding powder

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups powdered sugar

Top Layer:

4 ounces  semisweet chocolate

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions

Butter or spray a 9×9 pan.

Bottom Layer: In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and cocoa powder and then gradually whisk in the beaten egg. Return the saucepan to low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens (1 – 2 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, graham cracker crumbs, coconut, and chopped nuts. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (about an hour).

Middle Layer: In your mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients and beat until the mixture is smooth. If the mixture appears to thick to spread, add a little more milk. Spread the filling over the bottom layer, cover and refrigerate until firm (about 30 minutes).

Top Layer: Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Then, in a heatproof bowl, over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the filling and refrigerate for about 10 minutes or just until the chocolate has set. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.

Yield: Makes about 25 squares. Preparation time 45 minutes.


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