Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quick Cut-out Cookies

Last night I got home at about 9pm after leaving the office close to 8pm, running to the grocery store to get a few supplies for dinner and then trekking my way home.

I had promised my co-worker that I would help with snacks for her small group again so I needed to come up with a thanksgiving-ish treat for the kiddos that was not too terribly difficult (because I was tired...sorry C!)

I decided to go with cut-out cookies with a swirl frosting. C leads an all girl group so I wanted them to be colorful and fun. I used my mother-in-law's cookie base and then decided to go outside of my normal royal icing recipe and use one that I found in the The Joy of Baking.

It is okay but I really like Laurel's better, so in the future, I'll stick with hers. I'm including the The Joy of Baking one below but I plan on making Laurel's Christmas cookies for the the fam come Christmas so that will come later....stay tuned!

Cookie Base (from my mother-in-law):
1 cup unsalted butter at room temp
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract (or any other extract you choose)

1) Measure your flour and baking powder, set aside in medium sized bowl (I use a whisk to remove lumps--sift if you are feeling extra industrious!)

2) Cream the butter and sugar together (it needs to turn a pale yellow)

3) crack your egg into a small dish and whisk together with your extract

4) Add the egg mixture to the butter/sugar.

5) Slowly incorporate your flour mixture until combined.

6) Chill the dough in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight).

7) Roll out dough on a floured work surface to 1/4 of an inch (Laurel does 1/8 of an inch--I like mine thicker!), cut w/ cutters. * Laurel actually uses what I call the cheat method (:P)...she grabs a bit of dough and squishes it onto a parchment lined tray and cuts it on the tray and removes the excess there so that she doesn't have to transport the shape to the tray and have it potentially tear.

8) Bake at 350 for 7-12 minutes (all depends on how thick you cut them out and the shape you use...if there are small points or what not be sure to watch closely). Turn the tray half way through the cooking time for even baking.

Frosting (from The Joy of Baking):
4 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsps meringue powder
1/2 tsp extract (your choice--I usually use a combo of almond and vanilla)
1/2 cup-3/4 cup warm water
Food Coloring (I use gel pastes that I've gotten at Williams-Sonoma, but they are also widely available at craft stores or cake/candy retailers)

1) Mix powdered sugar and meringue powder in a stand mixer (or a bowl and use a hand mixer), add water and extract, beat until very glossy and stiff peaks form (this is going to take 5-7 minutes so be's not just takes a while!)

2) Add color.

3) When frosting if you want to outline and fill you will need to make a thicker and a thinner version of royal icing--add powdered sugar to thicken, water to thin (as you deem appropriate).

4) You will need to transfer the frosting to an airtight container or cover w/ plastic wrap as it will start to harden immediately.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Peregrine Espresso Latte Art

I have often touted my love for coffee, and Peregrine is my Mecca for a good cup of Joe in DC; I am pretty much here every day.

The owner, Ryan, has a plethora of knowledge (he's the really tall one in the shop if you go), and further the rest of the crew are truly fantastic; they make my mornings more enjoyable. Shoot, I want to work at Peregrine just so I can hang out more with these folks.

If you have time, I would recommend that you stay in the shop and enjoy your brew; I have enjoyed many mornings (weekends are great if you go early) lazily sipping my latte whilst reading a good book.

This is also the first place that I ever experienced true latte art--these barista's are amazing--Jeremy was the 2010 regional champ.
Peregrine is my Cheers; in all of the cities I have thus far inhabited (I think that I am up to 4 technically) I feel the need to have a spot where I get to know the people and the people know me, it makes me feel at home to be a regular.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bats in the Belfry

My friend C volunteers her time to help with a local DC after school program; she has a small group of elementary school girls that she works with and I think that the program is great but the timing of the group doesn't work for my schedule. So, C being fantastic, is letting me help her with snack (my little contribution).

In this vein, yesterday C did Halloween themed snacks. She made a really cute graveyard cake and so I thought bats might be a fun accompaniment.

I made brownies and used a sheet pan lined with parchment verses a regular pan so that I could cut the bats out with a cookie cutter. Then I just whipped up some royal icing (quite a bit actually--I am saving some to make pumpkins tonight!) to outline and the eyes are red hots.

In the bat realm, I decided to make some bat themed Halloween cards. I usually plan these things out better but this one, I was just feeling the need to make something.

My craft room is currently lacking in function; Dan had planned to build me a wall of shelving and peg board and I was going to put a tall table in the center...then we found out we might be moving...and all plans were halted.

Thus, I am using a large piece of book board on my floor as a crafting area, much to Remi's amusement! He is a curious little one; he watches patiently for a while, but then he cannot contain the curiosity and must stiff (see above), and I cannot confirm or deny that he ate a few bats...he has a thing for paper.

I used Paper Source Chartreuse and Black (A6 Chartreuse flat cards and text weight paper, and Black A6 envelopes and text weight paper--also for bats). Paper Source carries Martha Stewart craft punches now, so the bats came from a Martha punch using Black and Chartreuse text weight paper and I attached them to the card and envelope using a Xyron (above in pink).

The mini Xyron is one of my favorite gadgets; it turns anything into a sticker (hence the reason it's called a Xyron Create-a-sticker :P). For someone who loves craft punches, not having to use a glue stick to attach tiny pieces of paper is a fantastic thing. You drop your little creation in the top of the X (hole on the right) and at the bottom of the X (where the paper is on the left) you pull the strip and your creation now is on a sticker sheet with sticky on the back--ta da!

I lined the envelopes with the PS Chartreuse dot wrapping paper (you can buy this in individual sheets from the flat paper wall or you can get it on a roll; I have the roll because this is great to have on hand for generic birthdays and it is easy to store with the rest of my wrapping paper).

In the past I thought that envelope liners were silly but the PS liner kit makes it really easy and you can use any type of paper you want.

I thought that in all they turned out well; I added little eyes later that are not shown in any of the photos. Hope everyone has a great Halloween!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cafe Bonaparte, DC

Several friends had told me that Cafe Bonaparte was a tasty spot for breakfast, brunch, dinner, dessert, etc. so I decided to give it a whirl on my day off. Crepe's originate from Brittany, France, a large peninsula in the north west of France; from photos it looks like a divine place to go on vacation...I'm adding this to my list of places to go...along with a note to brush up on my French!
Back to the cafe; they are located off of Wisconsin in Georgetown, about four blocks from M (after you pass P street you are close...stop in and see Heidi at Poppy on P if they are open...cute custom jewelry shop). The atmosphere is quaint with a fitting European bistro feel and the staff were very friendly. Their menu boasts that they are known for their espresso drinks and their crepes, so I decided to stick within this realm.

I started with a French Vanilla Latte, which is a delightful combo of hazelnut and vanilla. I am often disappointed with coffee drinks at restaurants; living in DC with so many wonderful coffee joints (i.e. Peregrine Espresso, Baked and Wired) I have developed a discerning palate when it comes to joe; I would love to go to barista school in Seattle some day...we'll see! However, this was surprisingly delightful (though with whipped cream, hazelnut, vanilla, and espresso...there isn't much to dislike here for me!)

I ordered a savory Ham, Egg and Cheese Crepe; I was VERY tempted to order a sweet version and will certainly do so next time but this sounded yummy and simple, and indeed it was. I must admit that I am no crepe connoisseur (I have only had a handful in my lifetime) but for a budding crepe taster, this hit the spot and I would certainly go back to try something else from their menu.

Hopefully one Friday afternoon I will be able to grab some friends and head here for a little treat; I will report back with any new findings.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Last Sunday we had an office Octoberfest party at my Chief's house; he worked at a Japanese steak house when he was in high school/college and so he makes a mean fried rice and teriyaki chicken.

He made all of the food for the main feast but asked that we bring desserts and drinks; I of course brought a surprise there.

The day actually started off with me standing in line for the WH garden tour (first pic); it is October, but it has been unseasonably warm and though it was a beautiful day my choice of attire was entirely inappropriate and I was just flat out hot.

I arrived late (trying to find parking near the WH) so I missed my friends and then ended up not actually going on the tour. The line was seriously long, I had been before and my WH buddy said it wasn't work the wait...I had a ton of stuff to do that I hightailed it back home.

Dan spent most of the week on business travel so it was just me and Remster to fend for ourselves (we did fine--I actually become rather productive when he is away.)

However, I am seriously contemplating baby gates for our house because when I'm cooking he feels that it is his time for mayhem in the basement and inevitably he destroys something while I am distracted in the kitchen.

This recipe is pretty straightforward, yet a bit time consuming due to the steps in the process. I also can only fit 2 sheet pans comfortably in my oven at any given time (and it is not convection) so I'm a bit more limited there. Read, I started this recipe at 2pm and I was not finished until after 4pm.

I am not 100% satisfied with this yet (I never am really...need to work on this!)--I might add more spice next time I make these--thought they needed a little extra something. I've found a new butter love (above), Lurpak.

I am a sucker for cream cheese frosting, so this was right up my alley--pecans might be a good addition to the filling for next time....

I individually wrapped the pies in clear plastic wrap like I did for the oatmeal cream pies (they travel much better this way). Then I added a little sticker to the back so that they stayed together better.

For the "sticker" I used 2.5" circle Paper Source labels in Poppy and just stamped them with a pumpkin rubber stamp I got from PS last year in a brown chalk ink. I wrote the Pumpkin Whoopie Pie part with a brown micron pen and the other little bit is just my personal mark.

The recipe came from the Brown Eyed Baker site and I slightly modified it from her original.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple Cream Cheese Filling
For the "pies" a loose term only because they are more like little cakes.
3 cups AP Flour
2 1/4 tablespoons Ceylon cinnamon (I basically do 2 hefty tablespoons because I love it so)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
3 cups canned pumpkin (basically 1 and 1/2 cans--use the rest of the pumpkin for pasta...recipe to come later!)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Maple-Cream Cheese Filling
2 cups powdered sugar (do this to taste--I like a bit of tang from the cream cheese--original recipe calls for 3 cups of powdered sugar--I literally open a box of confectioner's sugar and add until it is to my taste)
8 ounces Philly cream cheese, (i.e. one brick) at room temp; Philly is the best--I've tried to go organic with this and the texture is just not there.
4 ounces (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temp
3 tablespoons maple syrup (grade B is best--I used grade A because I had that in my pantry!)
1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract (or a bit of vanilla bean paste would do well also)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper (or a silpat

2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together your dry ingredients: AP flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, whisk the two sugars...granulated and dark brown with the oil to emulsify. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Crack your eggs in a small bowl, whisk to break up, add the vanilla to this bowl then slowly incorporate into your wet ingredients

4. Gradually add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk until combined. A rubber spatula is also of good use here.

5. Use a small cookie scoop to drop a rounded tablespoon of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart. The dough is really rather dense so I had to tap my baking sheet on the counter (on a towel to protect the granite) to make them spread a bit--otherwise they don't spread much.

6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating your sheet half way through, pull when a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. The "cookies" should feel firm when touched--like a pumpkin bread. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on a cooling rack.

7. To make the filling, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth with no visible lumps, about 3 minutes. It is imperative that both the butter and cream cheese are room temp or this will not be pretty! Add the cream cheese and beat until smooth, roughly 2 minutes. Slowly add the powdered sugar, drizzle in the maple syrup and vanilla on low until combined.

8. To assemble the whoopie pies: Turn half of the cooled cookies upside down. Dollop the filling (about a tablespoon) onto that half. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so that the filling spread to the edges of the cookie and you have a nice sandwich. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Put the whoopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm before serving.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Remi's Halloween Spirit

As you can tell, Remi is not into clothing--he prefers to be in the fur alone. In fact, he has a true disdain for any sort of clothing be it a jacket, hat, etc. (please recall the elf hat from last Christmas!) However, I still dress him up--he just looks so darn cute I cannot help myself.

Dan and I have the perfect Halloween costume idea for Remi, but unfortunately the little elf seamstress of the household (i.e. moi) does not have time to execute the idea this year...stay tuned for next year.

Thus, this year we go with plan B; we are thinking maybe a pumpkin...every "kid" has to be a pumpkin their first Halloween right?!!?!?

However, when stopping in OTSFD for a new Ed, a canvas toy that Remi loves but it soon becomes a cesspool of yuk and must be replaced, I could not pass up this cute t-shirt (the ghosts glow in the dark!) I also picked up a fleece ball in purple, orange and black for Halloween; it has been a big hit thus far, and Remi hasn't destroyed it; I'll post pics eventually.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall Cards

As previously stated, I love Fall! At the end of the month the ladies in my office and I have planned an apple picking outing (a necessary endeavor around these parts); originally I was going to make an invitation because I am old fashioned and I love to receive mail. I came up with a red and orange design plan and made a mock invite.

However, I realized that I had already seen/spoken with all of the ladies we would invite through various social occasions so an invitation was really just a formality. Thus, I decided to send my little creations to a select group of friends and family instead.

I used all Paper Source products (naturally--I love that place!); red 5 3/4 inch square envelopes, their apple stamp with white chalk ink stamp pad (seen in first photo).

They have great fall pumpkin and vine flat paper on clearance (basically pumpkins and vines printed on paper bag colored paper, and you cannot beat it at 1/2 off!!); I used their square envelope liner template to create the cute liner seen above to tie in my fall red and persimmon color palate.

For the card itself I just free handed an apple shape on red cover weight paper (to create a template--I traced my shape to make copies on red text weight to use for the cards). I used a glue stick to attach the red apple to a square persimmon card and just free handed a stem in chocolate text and the leaf in chartreuse text to attach for more interest

I used a brown Faber-Castell artist pen M tip #175 and wrote the person's name on the leaf and used the apple shape to write text. I think that they turned out really well and I hope that my family and friends enjoy receiving them!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pumpkin Patch

Ever since living in the NE I look forward to Fall the most out of any season. It is sad really, by August I am itching for Fall weather, pumpkins and apples. The last few years we have gone to a pick-your-own apple orchard. This year I'm going apple picking with my office girls so Dan and I decided to take Remi to a pumpkin patch.

Hollin Farms is about 45 minutes outside of D.C. in Delaplane, VA. Once you get off the beaten path and turn into the farm (the shed pictured first is where you turn in); you follow the little pumpkin signs around what seems like an endless rocky road, but picturesque (see above).

When you finally arrive to the patch you are greeted by a sweet scene with a few carts of gourds, an apple stand and a hot dog stand (the farm is really known for their beef).

It had rained for the past week so we were a bit concerned that it would be super muddy (hence the wellies seen in below shots); however, the farm had lots of hay down and you hardly noticed any dampness because of it.

We chose Hollin Farms because they allow dogs on leashes to join in the family fun; we thought Remi would like to help pick our pumpkins! Also, it gives us a chance to socialize Remi more; our breeder recommended us to take him out in public and have him interact with different folks, kids etc. so we've tried to do that as much as we can.

The patch was really beautiful; it is set up on a hill with the mountains in the background. There was a cool breeze blowing through the field and since we went on a Sunday afternoon it wasn't crowded at all.

Remi had a blast; as soon as we reached the farm we rolled down our windows in the car and he was sniffing the air madly trying to decipher all of the new scents.

He even picked his own pumpkin! Okay, not really, this was totally staged (clearly :P), but we did take this pumpkin home.

Remi tried to eat the stem of my pumpkin (punk!) Then he proceeded to knock me on my bumper! Actually, he just jumped up to try and lick me and instead of trying to catch myself with my hand (lots of briers); I plopped on my rear...but...I didn't know that there was an incline there so I rolled all the way on my back. Dan, Mr. paparazzi at this point caught in all on camera and proceeded to laugh at me while I laid helplessly in the patch Remi standing on top of me...licking my face (naturally!)

We founds some beautiful deep orange saucer shaped pumpkins and Dan had the idea of stacking them up like a snowman--this lovely little tower is on our porch next to Remi's pumpkin!

We didn't get the memo that the farm does not provide carts, however, thankfully we were only wanting a few pumpkins. One family brought their modified little red wagon; next year--note to self--bring wagon!

I was milling around trying to find a good pie pumpkin before we checked out and Dan pssst me over to show me his find. There were little tiny pumpkins among the patch; being a girl and loving all things miniature I thought that this was just fantastic--need to bring a zip bag for gathering these next year (along with the wagon).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Finished Blanket

I posted a few weeks back about my crochet classes that I took from Fibre Space in Alexandria. My wonderfully patient teacher Leslie works miracles and I can now manage to read patterns.

I finished my first blanket a few weeks ago but it ended up being t-tiny so I used that as a test blanket. I'm planning to send that one to mom to use that for the doll bed.

I thus started another blanket (shown above) and have sent it off to our friend Becky who just had a beautiful little girl (Anna) two weeks ago.

I was really happy with result; it is not only cute but super soft. (I think that being picky about fabric must be a family thing because I was working on another blanket on the drive up to the mountains and the first thing K did when I pulled it out was feel the fabric...she then nodded her approval....too funny!)

In my testing phase I tried to wash my mini blanket in the machine on the delicate cycle (the yarn says hand wash or dry clean only however usually you can get away with delicate cycle).

This instance, the machine was a disaster, it stretched it all out and became a fuzzy mess. I took the above to the "green" dry-cleaner (they use non-toxic environmentally friendly solution) and it came out perfect.

I'm thinking of taking a hat making class next, so get excited folks!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Wellsboro Diner, Wellsboro, PA

My dad and his siblings have some land in the Allegheny mountains of PA. Dad, Dan , K and I went up after my cousin's wedding to check the place out (we had damage to some trees on the property due to a small tornado).

The property is close to Wellsboro, PA; a quaint all-American town built on the back of American factories. Many of the mountain towns are sparse to say the least but this one is well maintained and thriving in spite of the economic downturn.

It is a family tradition to go to the Wellsboro Diner at least once for pie when we go up to the mountains, so on our way in on Saturday we made the obligatory stop.

Inside it is a blast back to the 1950' and red and there is almost always a line to get in because there is very limited seating available.

I want to swoop in and fix this place up; it has great bones but that's about it. They don't use fresh ingredients (from what I can tell); it is mostly frozen and fried fare. It could be really fantastic if they had a chef with a vision. I've heard that breakfast is pretty decent (but it's hard to mess up eggs, bacon and toast so the jury is still out for me....I'll go for breakfast next time!)

They have the history, logo, name recognition and a solid following, they just don't have the food to back it up.

Needless to say all four of us were unimpressed with our pie. It has been years since I've been to the Diner (I've been a slacker and haven't been up to the mountains in a while--once or twice since Papa died in 2001).

Above is Dad's graham cracker pie. This used to be Papa's favorite but dad said that the above is not a good representation for how it should be. I'm curious if there was a change in management or if we all are just food snobs now...maybe a both!

My Raspberry Peach Pie; it tasted like canned peaches and likely frozen raspberries (which there is nothing wrong with a frozen raspberry--they can make great sauces and pies; however, with the canned peach...not so tasty). Pie crust was okay, nothing to write home about and the ice cream was interlaced with ice crystals...ugh.

Dan ordered what he thought was a "Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie" (since it was listed on the pie menu), but the above is what came out. A hard, flavorless cookie; Dan was bummed.

Kristen ordered the peanut butter pie, which could have been great, but ended up pretty awful in my opinion. I didn't even bother taking a picture. It was a peanut butter cream filling with whipped cream on top; all together, it was way too sweet and it was desperate for some crunch to save it from the one note it was hitting.

In all, the diner is a cute place to visit, but go for breakfast, not dessert!