Sunday, December 30, 2012

Stocking Stuffers & Special Things

Several of my gifts and stuffers this year were given for the quilter in me, and I couldn't be happier.

Betty made absolutely gorgeous woolen eyeglass cases as gifts (this is what she kept running into the bedroom at the cottage to plan in secret during our craft day at the cottage a while back). Aren't they wonderful? If memory serves me correctly, that Godiva chocolate truffle bar that's tucked inside will help improve my eyesight...

I love the felted ball, and her stitching is teeny, tiny and perfect.

And Anne had a sewing treat for me too. This charming little gal is a magnetic needle nanny. She's only about 2 inches from stem to stern but the magnet is strong enough to hold scissors, needles and pins securely in place and at the ready. Guess that means no more standing up and realizing that the upper part of my pant leg has become a temporary pincushion...where's the fun in that?!

She'll need a name, of course. Any suggestions?

Santa wasn't about to be left out of the picture either. He tucked a Clover needle threader into my stocking, and none too soon either because lately those needle holes seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

And for the tree, a little something from Stephanie. Isn't she beautiful? She's a Christmas quilting angel complete with halo, sewing basket and a lovely scene of a quilting bee on the front of her skirt. Quite regal, isn't she?

She's equally beautiful from the back.

Collectively, they have all inspired me to pick up needle and thread again and I've been enjoying a return to fussy cutting and relaxing hand stitching.

I went for the biggest bag first cause I'm tired of moving it around the house/sewing room, so I'll spend some time working on Candied Hexagons. I started laying blocks out on the spare bed and playing with the layout and am thinking of changing things up a tad. All will be revealed...M

Friday, December 28, 2012

Peace and Joy

It's hard not to have a beautiful Christmas when this is where you are celebrating. This photo was taken by my neice Julia from the bottom of their driveway earlier this week, and it is where we enjoyed Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Isn't it spectacular? We had several days of snow before Santa arrived and lots more again yesterday, helping make our holidays merry and bright. Walks in the snow, sliding, and our annual road hockey game were enoyed to the fullest, thanks to Mother Nature. I hope that you and yours are enjoying this wonderful season as well.

One last shot of Christmas goodies's the cream puffs with almond cream that we enjoyed Christmas Eve, after our fondue - a tradition that my brother Michael and his wife Lili introduced us to several years ago and one that we continue to this day.
A lot of the hustle and bustle is behind us now and we are enjoying the calm and catching our breath. I think I might actually be able to get some hand stitching in later today. I will get back to quilting fingers are getting itchy for it.
Keep Christmas always in your heart. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Cookie Marathon

I started out the day  thinking that I had one or two more things left to bake and that would be it for this Christmas so that I could move on to finish up my gift wrapping, but one thing lead to another and the kitchen wasn't clean again until after dinner. Let me cast my mind back to early this seems like such a long time ago. Despite my recent cookie press experience I tried two more new recipes - Mexican Chocolate Bars, which were in the Holiday issue of LCBO's Food & Drink (sorry, no photo, my batteries in the camera died) - and, at long last, the Grand Marnier Glazed Pain d'Épice. Neither one caused me the grief that the Orange Creams did and both will look scrumptious on a plate.

The bars are described as 'an elegant dark cousin of the Nanaimo Bar, with smooth chocolate, chilis and spice in the middle layer. They are rich and candy-like - a little goes a long way'. Yum.

You'll remember that the Pain d'Épice recipe is from The Gourmet Cookie Cookbook that Stephanie gave me just over a year ago. These little beauties have been ogled off and on throughout the year and this week I decided to bite the bullet. Good choice. The recipe is beautifully complex in its flavours - allspice, ginger, cinnamon & nutmeg combines with sugards & honey - and the Grand Marnier glaze is wonderful.

I didn't have time to make the Candied Orange Peel from scratch so I bought it. I also didn't want a chunk of it sitting on the end of the cookies (wasn't sure they'd survive being stacked in a tin) so I diced the peel finely and sprinkled a bit in one corner. They look like jewellry, even without the gold lustre dust that they called for.

And they are a snap to cut out - you just mark off half-inch strips in the dough with a pastry wheel (I used a pizza cutter) and then cut the strips into fourths and - wa-la! - 80 cookies. There was lots of glaze left over so the last thing I did before I put KitchenAid away was mix up a second batch to bake tomorrow.

I also made a batch of Toblerone Shortbread because shortbread is the all-time of the Official Cookie Tester...

...and two more batches of Social Tea Squares. It was all topped off with a second batch of Hazelnut Thumbprints because much of what I had baked has already left the house in gift tins. So, other than baking the batch of Pain d'Épice that's in the fridge, pastry for the mince tarts and making a cream puff ring for Christmas Eve, I think my holiday baking is complete.

A few people have asked for the recipe for the pecan shortbreads that I made the other day, so here you go:

Pecan Shortbread Drizzle
1 c chopped pecans
2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1/3 c cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 c cold butter, cut into small squares
1/2 tsp vanilla
pecan halves for decorating
chocolate to drizzle

Bake 1 cup of pecans @ 350F for about 8 minutes until beginning to brown. Cool.

Place flour, sugar. cinnamon & cornstarch in food process with metal blade; add butter & vanilla; process with several on/off pulses until crumbly. Add nuts and process til combined but slightly crumbly - not a ball. Place dough on lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Knead til smooth. Divide dough in half; wrap & chill about 30 minutes. Roll out on lightly floured surface to 1/4" thickness; lay on ungreased cookie sheet & place pecan half in centre of each cookie. Bake at 350F for 12 minutes, until just beginning to turn golden. Remove from oven and leave on pan a few minutes; remove from pan & cool completely. Drizzle with your favourite chocolate.

These are a favourite of mine - if you try them I hope you like them too....M

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Perfect Cookies In Minutes

I'll admit - the fault is mine. I was feeling so good about how well my baking was going that I deviated from my list and decided to try not only a new recipe but a new cookie press as well. Wrongo!

Frances had left her Cuisinart cookie press with me after the cookie bakeoff and I had found a recipe for Orange Cream Stars in my new fine cooking 'cookies' mag, so I threw caution to the wind and decided to give them both a try. I was all in. They looked so simple that I decided I'd even make a double batch. Not so simple, and probably something that I should be starting at 9 at night.

The dough went together fine but the 'perfect cookies in minutes' part never materialized (that's the first line on the cookie press packaging). My 'stars' ended up looking more like burnt sand dollars, I couldn't get them to a shape and size that I liked, and the dough was so soft that it just kept running out of the press, so it was time for Plan B.

I lay the press on it's side and used it like a sausage maker, cutting 3" lengths. I wasn't sure at first how to shape them - circles or an 's' - but they looked sketchy so I simplified things and just twisted the dough slightly and ended up with what looked like fancy ladyfingers. By the time I finally finished it was late into the night and I was pretty grumpy so I froze them and decided to fill them the next day. They didn't look as bad as I remembered when I pulled them out of the freezer and when they were sandwiched together and dusted with a little icing sugar they were quite pretty; they even taste nice. Whew! Thank heavens because I couldn't stand the thought of wasting all that dough. Anyway, lesson learned; don't think I'll be investing in an electric cookie press any time soon.

Thankfully, before I tried making those I had made a couple of batches of social tea squares...

and two batches of tiny fudge tartlets...

 I was able to finish off filling my gift tins and get the first one delivered today. And, if I must say, I think they all look pretty nice together. I can't really call them Orange Cream Stars - maybe just Orange Creams...M

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Full Court Press

Most people are counting down the number of shopping days til Christmas but mine are the number of baking days. When they say 'Making a list and checking it twice' - for me it's the cookie baking list. Soooo, time to get at it because I have at least one tin that needs to be delivered tomorrow.

You'll recall that Social Tea Squares are a huge hit with our gang so I've made two batches of those - they still need to be cut up and put in tins. I think there will be two more pans made but I need to empty the pans first...

The Pecan Shortbread Drizzle are another fave (of mine, anyway). I love how they look on the plate, and all that nutty goodness and a hint of cinnamon, topped off with chocolate drizzle just makes my knees go weak, so I knew that I had to get a batch of them made.

They are made in the food processor (which I had forgotten) so they came together very quickly. It's a deceivingly small looking recipe but it makes over 70 cookies so there will be plenty of good cups of tea to be had.

Feeling like I was on a roll, I decided to try a new recipe. I tend to make the same list year after year but every now and then a new one sneaks in, so my list just continually gets longer.

These I can blame on Jane - I came across them on her Pinterest page - Gooey Chocolate Coconut Truffles. I seldom, if ever, make truffles but these looked too good to pass up. I haven't tried one yet but judging from the ingredients they sound like they will taste like a Mounds bar - gooey coconut on the inside and milk chocolate on the outside.

The photo from the recipe showed a very smooth truffle but I made mind a little textured. And the bonus was how many it made. The recipe suggested 24 teaspoon-sized truffles but I got 36 (and they are substantial once the chocolate is on them) so that was a pleasant surprise. I had not heard of coconut oil for baking before but found it at Bulk Barn. Give them a try - they are really easy - the longest part is coating them with chocolate.

Gooey Chocolate Coconut Truffles
3 c unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 c icing sugar
1/2 c sweetened condensed milk
1/4 c coconut oil, melted
1 1/2 c milk chocolate chips, melted

In a large bowl, combine coconut and sugar and mix to combine. Add in milk and coconut oil, mix constantly until a gooey coconut filling results. Roll into teaspoon-sized balls and place on parchment. Freeze 30 minutes. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler or microwave; roll balls in chocolate. Refrigerate/freeze until ready to serve.

Maybe I should have stopped there with the new recipes, but noooooo, I had to try not only a new recipe but a new cookie press. Details to follow...M

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

We Couldn't Wait

Remember I mentioned that I met Nancy and Dawn for dinner last week? Well, the lovely Nancy brought along delightful boxes of goodies for each of us - she always wraps things in amazingly beautiful ways.

They were filled with the most beautifully decorated Cardamom Honey Snowflakes so I dutifully took mine home to the Official Cookie Tester thinking that we could freeze them and enjoy them over the holidays. Not! I should have put them into the freezer right away, but noooooo, I left them on the counter for a bit. That's a challenge when you live with a cookie fiend.

And, being the kind-hearted soul that I am, I could not let him sample them himself, so, in very short order we finished off a couple each. De-lish! No point putting the rest into the freezer after that!

Aren't they just gorgeous? Apparently drinking plenty of wine is the key to her decorating prowess...

I'm still plugging away at a few little birds for the tree but quite frankly, there is so much going on with Christmas prep right now that I don't know if they will all get done. This might be handwork that I pick up during the holly-days. Oh well, I can still add them to the tree.

Note to self: next year finish all shopping by the end of November....M

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Give Me A 'D'...

If you are familiar with Denyse Schmidt's work at all you will recognize this photo as a slice from the cover of her book Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration. Dori had ordered it for me this past summer when she was getting one and I picked it up when I was in Toronto last week for a few days of training. More correctly, Nancy kindly brought it with her when she and Dawn and I met for dinner.

It has been a little crazy since I got home so I haven't had a ton of time to sit down with it, but a quick look has convinced me that there are a few projects that I really like and that usually means that there will be more once I spend some time with it.

I'm not sure if it's the colour or just the great graphic effect of the pattern but the first one to jump out at me was the Sawtooth Stripes. That green and white combo is lovely - you can't beat a 2-colour quilt, in my books.

I was also quite taken with the Streak of Lightning. Again, a very similar palette, but what I liked about this one was the 'make do' pieces that run along the bottom of it - they add great interest.

And last, but certainly not least, is the Single Irish Chain. I am always drawn to this pattern, and it seems the smaller the blocks, the better.

In this case it was also the incorporation of three additional prints in one or two areas into the otherwise solid orange and white quilt - just enough to make your eye have something to play with. LOVE it! If I keep finding new projects that I like I might have to give up my day job just so that I can stitch. But all that has to wait right now - time to do the Christmas cards..M

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Sweet Treats

Betty always jokes that from the time of the Cookie Bakeoff til Christmas Eve my mixmaster is a permanent fixture on the island, and she isn't far from wrong. Really, why keep putting it away when you know it's going to be used again the next day?

The Official Cookie Tester and I have a few people that we like to give tins of cookies to at Christmas so it's time to start work on those. I made another batch of Snowballs (we had made two batches for the bakeoff) and then tried a new recipe, one that Linda had brought to the bakeoff several years ago that I had a vague recollection about but had never made. Besides, I was on a mission. I have this huge pile of recipes that I have collected & ripped from magazines so I have resolved to either try them or pitch them, so that was part of the thinking. I'm SO glad I did.

I'm not sure what they are actually called because the name was cut off the copy that I have, but I'm thinking it's probably Hazelnut Thumbprints. The dough is lovely with a nice sprinkling of orange zest and then they are rolled in egg whites and finely ground hazelnuts and filled with gooey, rich nutella. Wonderful!

Hazelnut Thumbprints
1/2 c unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
grated peel of 1 med. orange
1 tbsp orange juice
3/4 tsp salt
1 c flour
1 egg white
1 c toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
chocolate-hazelnut spread (Nutella)
whole toasted skinned hazelnuts

In a large bowl beat butter and sugar until very creamy. Beat in egg yolk, vanilla, peel, juice and salt. Gradually beat in flour. If dough is too soft to handle chill for about 20 minutes. Place egg white in a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Place nuts in another small bowl. Shape into 1" balls, roll in egg white, then finely chopped nuts. Make a small impression in the centre of the cookie & fill with about 1/2 tsp nutella. Bake at 350F until firm and bottom edges are golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from oven and, if using whole nuts to garnish, place one in the centre of each mound. When cool, store in an airtight container, in a cool place or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Do not stack cookies. Frozen cookies will keep will for up to 2 months.

NOTE: The recipe calls for a roasted hazelnut on top of each cookie but I preferred them without - I tried a few but wasn't convinced that the nut would hold and it was overpowering the cookie. The nutella is not as pliable as jam so filling them is a bit more time-consuming, but they are worth it. Several had to be tried before the rest found their way to the freezer.

This recipe's a keeper - thanks Linda!...M

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Feathering My Nest

I seem to be spending a lot of time on birds lately - if it's not flying geese it's more of the little felt birds. So often I make things and don't have any left for me so I thought now would be a good time to stitch a few little birds for my Christmas tree.

This is an 'aerial view' of my sewing tray - it's easy for me to find things when they are well laid out and keeps the bits and pieces relatively contained.

One of the little fellowes that I worked on has been half finished for a while. It's a white beaded version that I played with a little bit but wasn't as keen on as the green & blue combo that I made, so I wasn't convinced that it would be finished, but Jane, Linda and Betty all liked it so I thought I might as well embroider the second body and put it together.

This is one of two flosses that I was using - a lovely, rich, variegated green from DMC. I alternated lazy daisy stitches in deep coral with this and then incorporated the coral beads.

At the end of the day I think he turned out okay and I'm glad that I decided to finish him. They really come to life when the little beads are sewn in for their eyes.

I've also made a few more red ones and one or two cream; it's my hand work while watching TV - still have to put the hangers on them though.

And there's been a little more hand stitching on Confetti at times too- it's almost time to move the hoop again, so that's a sign of some progress. I'm away most of this week for work so not much will be done on it again for a while. ....M