Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Choux Pastry for cream puffs // profiteroles // eclairs // etc

Ah, days off.
After working this past weekend, I'm happy that I only have 3 shifts to work this week. 

I started off the day by making responsibly adult decisions, namely eating Doritos for my immediate breakfast (because if I take my multivitamin on an empty stomach I get really nauseous... is how I justified that). Then I watched Let's Make a Deal, followed by the Price is Right while cuddling with Reese on the couch because the dog and I needed to thaw our toes from our walk in the park. 

Then I remembered that I had found some interesting new chocolate bars at Shoppers Drug Mart that I wanted to sample.
One is filled with red velvet cake ganache, the other with bits of potato chips and bacon. Imitation bacon, yes, but I'm sure that's for health purposes.
Neither disappointed.

Feeling in the mood for something French I decided to whip up some choux pastry for either cream puffs or profiteroles (still to be decided).
Choux pastry is the base for all things delicious: the cream puff, the profiterole, the croquembouche, the eclair, the gougere, the beignet, the cruller . . . 
I've made it 3 or 4 times and I've always had great results. 
The choux are light and airy and have a mild taste which allows for the other flavours you combine them with to take centre stage.
The recipe I use is courtesy of Williams Sonoma and it takes all of an hour (give or take) to make these delicious deserts (add more time for the cream and/or chocolate sauce).
Years ago I posted the recipe for choux pastry. 
Rather than link you to it (which you can get to by clicking on the W-S link above), I'm just going to break it down for you again.

  • In a pot over medium heat, bring to a boil 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup water, 6 tbsp butter and 1/4 tsp salt.
  • Remove from heat and immediately stir in 1 cup flour using the back of a wooden spoon. Continue mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pot.
  • One at a time, whisk 4 eggs and add into your pate a choux paste, mixing after each addition to combine. Here, for the sake of my weak, tired arms, I put the paste into the bowl of my electric mixer and blend it all together to make it smooth and workable. Let the paste cool for about 10 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 425. Transfer dough into a piping bag (or a ziplock bag which works just as well) and pipe your desired shape onto a parchment or tinfoil lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove pan and cut a small slit in the side of each pastry.
  • Turn the oven down to 350. Allow pastries to bake for another 5 minutes, then leave the oven door open a bit and allow the pastries to dry out for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  • You can follow up by filling the pastries with cream or custard or cheese and/or dipping them in a chocolate sauce - depends what you have in mind for your choux pastries!
Enjoy deciding what to do next with your fancy, light as air choux!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Potato Pierogies

For some reason yesterday I was intensely craving pierogies.
Actually I know the exact reason. The cook where I work had made them for our patients for lunch and they looked phenomenal.

So I had to have them.
Usually if we have them we eat them as a breakfast food, fried up from our store bought frozen stash with bacon and onions.
But I wanted to make my own. So I did!
They're quite easy to make and considering I've never attempted them before and they turned out not too badly, I'd say they might be foolproof.

The only thing I'd fix for next time is that I'd either add more filling or make my circles smaller or the dough thinner as I ended up cutting off and not eating a lot of the outer edges.

Also I'd add bacon.

Always add bacon.

(recipe loosely adapted from Martha Stewart's potato pierogi recipe)

In a mixing bowl, lightly whisk 1 egg. Add in 2 tbsp sour cream and mix together.
Mix in 1 cup milk and 1 cup water
Add in 5 cups of flour, one cup at a time. Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes until elastic.
Place dough in a lightly floured bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Bring to a boil a pot of salted water. Boil 10 potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. 
Drain water, add in 1/2 cup cream cheese & 2 tbsp butter and mash together.
*I would also highly recommend adding in crumbled bacon here, however I didn't have bacon on hand (I know, how did that happen!?) so I won't include it in this recipe.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface.
Cut out circles and place a dollop of your potato filling in the center. 
Pick up each circle of dough in your hand and press the edges together to seal. You can scallop the edges with a fork for a fancier look.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Drop pierogies in and allow them to cook and rise to the top. Allow them to cook for about 2 minutes more once they've floated up. Remove from the pot and drain off excess water.

Heat a frying pan and melt 2 tbsp butter.
Cut 1/2 onion and 1 clove garlic and cook until translucent.
Add in pierogies and cook until crisp and browned.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream & enjoy! 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Card Making 101

About a week ago I got together with 2 of my friends for a craft night, complete with pizza & wine.
Note: for those of you who are gluten intolerant, as both of these friends are, Magic Oven makes a mean gluten free pizza. It's pricey but the crunchiness of the dough is kind of a nice difference from the usually softer dough.

Anyway, after spending a good deal of time at Michael's perusing the aisles for craft supplies, we decided we would make cards and we picked up our necessities.

We bought card stock cards that were pre-perforated for folding in half, stencils, fancier print card stock, a bunch of stick on letters in various fonts, and ribbon and stickers for different occasions.

Even if you go in without a real idea of what you want to make, you can pick up what you need to make some really great cards.

I made 6: 2 Wedding cards, including my favourite which I'll show you below, 2 cards for expectant parents, a thank you card, and a valentine's day card for John (with one in the works for my mom).

My favourite is this one, for my cousin who is getting married in April.
I borrowed heavy inspiration from similar cards that I've seen.
All you need is some ribbon and to cut triangles out of other card stock you have.

It's cheaper in the long run AND way more fun to make your own cards.
I'm giving my sister, who has been the champion of homemade cards for years now, a run for her money.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Adventures in Knitting: How to Knit a Beard

This year, much like last year, I won't be celebrating Valentine's Day with John.
Last year we were in a jeep on the Serengeti, chasing down lions and leopards and zebras (oh my).
And that was exciting enough.
This year John is off to climb Mt Washington so my valentine will be my mom because I secured her once I found out I'd need one and she gives awesome presents.
I'm anticipating quite a bit of chocolate.

But back to the point of the post.
I knit John a hat for his cold adventure as his valentine present.
I also thought it would be funny to knit him a face warmer to go with it.
So, inspired by a hat I saw one year at the family Country Christmas gift exchange, I did.

And you can too! 

Using 4 mm needles and your choice of material, cast on 36 stitches.
Knit 4 rows.
On row 5 knit 13 stitches, cast off 10, then knit the remaining 13 stitches.
(To make the mouth a bit wider I'd be tempted to add in a row here where you knit 12, cast off 2, then knit the remaining 12. I may try this next time)
Row 6 work back 13 stitches, cast on 10 stitches, then finish the row.
Continue knitting until the beard reaches the bottom of your chin.
Knit 2 together at the end of every row until you're left with 14 stitches.
Cast off.

Separately, knit two strands to connect the beard to a hat. Otherwise purchase some elastic thread and connect it to the beard so that it can be hooked around your ears.
How? I don't know. I haven't found elastic thread yet.

There's still one more surprise to the hat - John if you're reading this, stop now.


I put on a patch that we bought in Tanzania of Mt Kilimanjaro and another patch that I ordered online of Mt Washington. 
The patches commemorate his summits AND hide the ugly back part of the hat so... 


Friday, January 17, 2014

Easy (but somewhat impractical) No-Sew Pillow Covers

This week, during my time off, I attempted to undertake some projects.

One of which was some no-sew pillow covers that I'd seen on (where else?) Pinterest.
I bought fabric at Ikea several months ago but never did anything with it.
After digging it out of our storage bench I decided to use it to spruce up some of our pillows to match them to other map styled pillows we had purchased awhile back.

Step 1: Cut the fabric so you have enough to cover the pillow when folded and enough fabric on the sides to tie the ends together.

Step 2: Place the pillow in the centre and fold the fabric over the pillow.

Step 3: Have your dog/cat/child/other household pest help.
Start step 2 over again.

Step 4: Fold the long ends in as if you were wrapping a gift.

Step 5: Tie the ends together, tucking the loose ends under to create a clean knot.

That's it!
I've seen recommendations to add a few stitches here to keep the knot from coming undone and I'd recommend that also. This no-sew idea is good for decorative pillows but not for pillows you plan to actually use (we use almost all of the pillows in our apartment. We're very cuddle-focused). 
So my next plan is to borrow my mom's sewing machine, learn to use it properly, and sew a whole slew of new pillow covers.
I went back to Ikea and grabbed more fabric for this future project.

Monday, January 13, 2014

This Week...

This week, starting today, I only work one shift. 
On Thursday.
From 3-11 pm.
So I don't have to pull any all-nighters or get up early until Sunday. 
I'm so excited!

My plan is to lounge around, clean out the apartment a bit more (I've already done the kitchen cupboards and under the bathroom sink), and do some cooking and crafting.

A preview of what I hope to accomplish this week:

1. Use scrap fabric to make my own beautiful envelopes 
(as seen in the February 2014 issue of MSL)

2. Make new pillow case covers for the pillows on my couch.
I bought this fabric at Ikea at least a year ago and have yet to put it to use.

3. Make more proper dinners. 
I saw this recipe in the same Feb issue of MSL and want it for dinner.
I've made the lighter version which substitutes phyllo dough for puff pastry but I want the puff pastry this time around. 
I want all that buttery richness to go with the warm creamy chicken filling.

And finally... I'm working on a fun little addition to the hat I just finished.
Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Knitting Adventures: My First Hat

Having had moderate success moving away from my straight patterns (scarves and blankets) to more challenging patterns (the knittens from a previous post), I tried my hand at making a hat.
I started on circular needles but quickly came to hate them. I may need to give them a second chance in the future though.
I switched the my regular boring straight needles and picked a smaller size to ensure a warmer, more tightly knit hat. I used 4.0 mm (US 6) needles. 

I started with the basic pattern idea - knit a swatch to know how stitches it's going to take to make it around your head. Always err on the side of caution and knit less than you think if you're unsure. It's better if the hat needs to stretch a bit anyway.
I forget how many stitches it took me but it was quite a few. 

Then I knit and knit and knit until I had about 6 inches of the hat. Then I started knitting 3 together at each end to start tapering the hat down. 
Once I was down to about 10 stitches left I casted off and stitched the back together. 
I won't show you a picture of the back because it's horrible.
Nowhere near as nice as the front. 

I may do a few fixes to try and correct the monstrosity at the back. All I need is a patch I ordered online to arrive then voila - this hat will be a Valentines day present for my mountain climber.

I'll show you the final product once it's done! 

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Happy List: January Edition

I'm right in the middle of my week of nights (I even took an extra night shift to make my bank account happier). The weather has been so cold lately, so cold that Wednesday's -22 (before the windchill) made me say "oh thank goodness it's warmed up!"  ...so this is a week where I could use some reminding of all the things that I'm happy for.
My Happy List.
While John & Reese were away for New Years, I got to spend some quality snuggle time with Murray.
I'm happy to have this scoundrel.
With the weather having recently been indicative of an impending ice age, I'll admit that I've regretted our decision to care for an animal that doesn't do her business in a box of litter.
Putting on 8 layers and trekking outside in -40 degree temperatures was the last thing I wanted to do.
But we ran around and chased each other and chased after sticks until our toes/paws were too cold and then we went back inside to warm up.
With the weather improving, I'm enjoying our long park walks again.
And I'm enjoying our post adventure cuddles even more.
I'm happy to have Reese.
And I'm happy that the temperature is supposed to be +4 on Saturday!

As tired as working nights can make me, I'm happy for my job.
I'm even more happy when I stumble across hilariously appropriate comics.
I found this one on my lunch break during a shift where I was mentally preparing myself to start chest compressions on a declining patient who was (at that time) a full code (meaning CPR & the works). I was happy to laugh off a bit of the stress.

*For those of you unfamiliar with CPR please (please) know that this is a joke and not actually what happens when you perform CPR. Just a (hopefully unnecessary) disclaimer.
I'm happy that I've started work on my Hopes & Dreams for 2014.
I registered myself in a French class!
Three hours once a week til mid April I believe.
Here's hoping I didn't get a bit too big for my britches enrolling in the intermediate class instead of the beginner class.
I'm happy that I found a new TV show to binge watch - Scandal.
It's good.
I'm also happy that The Mindy Project is back because I love me some Mindy Kaling and I loooove Chris Messina (have you seen his Aaliyah dance? Youtube it. You won't be disappointed).
I'm happy that when I go home in the morning I'm going to jump into my warm bed and fall asleep for a few hours.
I'm happy that when this week of night shifts is done, Monday night I'm going to fall asleep curled up beside my husband.
And sleep for probably 13 hours.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Date Night: In the Dark at O.NOIR

Before Christmas, John and I went out for dinner at a place I was curious to check out.
It's not well known for the wine list, or impeccable food, or the view.
In fact, it's quite the opposite of that last point.

O.Noir is a restaurant where you dine completely in the dark. 
We're talking pitch black, can't see shapes nor shadows, or the hand in front of your face.
As you can see from that top picture, the restaurant is located underground. You walk down a flight of stairs into the venue.

You sit in a dimly lit area where you are given the menu to make your selections. 
Then a waiter (many of them blind) lead you into the completely dark dining room. 
You are told to feel the table to get a sense of where your utensils are and to kind of get a sense of your location relative to your dining partner and of the other tables. 
It's amazing how many conversations I eavesdropped on, I think partly because I was relying completely on my other senses.
Being handed your drink and plates of food is scary at first but slowly you start to figure out where things are. 
Neither John nor I spilled anything on the table or on ourselves. 

I will admit though that I have a totally irrational fear of the dark and had to calm myself down from a rising panic attack once or twice. 
I also kept convincing myself I could see shadows (I couldn't) and that I was now actually blind and would never see again. 

The food was decent, although I did find a hair in my main course (my own?). I suppose in the dark you're supposed to appreciate tastes and textures more since we usually eat with our eyes first. 

John and I were the last people in the dining room and that was weird. I could keep myself calm when I could hear other voices but when it was just us left I was ready to leave.
Emerging back into the light was a nice way to cap off the date.

The experience is worth checking out. 
Especially if you're terrified of the dark. 

Check out more info on the restaurant here

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Adventures in Knitting: Knittens (to warm hands on cold days)

During my experimentation with knitting patterns more complicated than blankets and scarves, I moved on to mittens. 
My first attempt ended in a gigantic mitten better suited for an oven mitt. 
So I started again, with a better idea of how to proceed.
The end result was still a bit bigger than I perhaps would have liked but I used it to my advantage and created felt inserts filled with rice that can be microwaved to provide some extra heat. 

Follow the pattern from Martha Stewart that I posted in an earlier post (also found here) or do what I did and use thicker wool and thicker needles and just cast on half the number of stitches they call for and continue with halving the numbers (except for number of rows, then just go by how wide the mitten looks).

I've taken to calling this knit mittens 'knittens'.

Once your knitten has been cast off, use a darning needles to stitch the mitten together around the edges.
I used a white wool to show what I did, but I removed it after and re-stitched it with the same colour wool to make it look cleaner.

For the microwavable insert, I traced the finished knitten onto a red felt stocking I bought from the dollar store. I ended up having to cut it a little smaller to fit into the mitten. I sewed around the edges, leaving a small opening into which I poured uncooked rice. Add just enough to fill the mitten without leaving it bulging. 

Ideally, use thread the same colour as the felt. Unfortunately in my case my dog took off with the red thread in her mouth and it was too slobbery to use on something I hoped would turn out nice.

I thought about sewing the inserts into the knittens but ultimately figured leaving them as inserts was the better option because they did make the knittens quite bulky.

I gave these knittens to my father-in-law, who works outside and I'm sure with all the crazy weather lately could use something to keep his hands warm. 

They make a cute gift AND I was able to knit both mittens in less than 5 hours so this is a project that won't take a long time to finish.

Here's to a 2014 filled with many more handmade crafts!
(Hopes & Dreams item #9!)