Tuesday, February 28, 2012

To Dye By Hand, Pt. 2

"Round about the cauldron go, in the poisoned entrails throw. Toad, that under cold stone days and nights has thirty-one/ swelter'd venom sleeping got, boil thou first in the charm'd pot. Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble." - Macbeth, Shakespeare

I finally have the chance to dye some yarn. Having ordered some "Bare" yarn in fingering weight, and a jar of Emerald Green dye powder, from Knit Picks, I pulled out a big enamel pot and a large bottle of white vinegar, and went to work.

Dye Powder

"Bare" yarn

Dye Mixture
While the pot of water is boiling, I mixed the dye powder with water to make a "Dye Stock"...

Yarn and Dye in the pot
Then, when the water is almost boiling, I mixed in the dye stock and white vinegar, and put the yarn into the water.

Dyed Yarn - "Eire"
After the water runs clear and the yarn has taken the dye, I allowed the pot to cool, then rinsed the yarn in warm water, hanging it to dry afterwards.

As happens in many cases, the yarn can dye unevenly. This is because, when the yarn is washed after being harvested from the sheep, the animal fat was not evenly washed out. I like the fact that the finished product varies from a Deep Seaweed to a Lime Green.

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, I'll christen it "Eire," the Gaelic name for Ireland.

This will show up in some future knitting project...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Zuccotto Cupcakes

"All the blessings we enjoy are Divine deposits, committed to our trust on this condition, that they should be dispensed for the benefit of our neighbors." - John Calvin

One unexpected perk to giving up sweets for Lent: when you can only have them one day a week (Sunday), you don't want to mess around - only the good stuff will do. Unless otherwise detained, I hope to make some fabulous desserts every weekend of Lent through Easter. This weekend included my secret Raspberry Brownies (my brother's request), and these cupcakes.

A few months ago, a lady at my church brought these to a Community Sunday dinner. After one bite, my brother ordered me to get the recipe from her by any means necessary. Thankfully, this recipe is online, so force (ahem) persuasion was not needed.

cupcake batter
 I took a box of regular boxed white cake mix and added a small box of vanilla instant pudding for the batter.

chopped chocolate
Then I chopped some chocolate off of a brick. It needs to be finely chopped, then mixed into the batter.

stuffed cupcakes

Mixing the filling, and stuffing the cupcakes with it were a ticklish business, so I only have a photo of the cupcakes after stuffing.

Homemade Ganache
Then I made a ganache, along with...

White Chocolate Cream Frosting
...this frosting.

Cupcakes with Ganache
The cupcakes were spread with ganache...

Frosted, finished cupcakes
...and then spread again with the frosting. I made 24 total, and put frosting on half, while leaving the other half with just ganache.

Definitely above the average dessert, and well worth the effort.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras Indulgences

"The new year's walk, restoring through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring with a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem/the time. Redeem/the unread vision in the higher dream/ while jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse." - Ash Wednesday, T.S. Eliot

While I am not a Catholic, nor a member of any High Church (i.e. Anglican, Lutheran, etc.), I've decided to observe Lent this year, and am giving up desserts/sweets. Today being Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), I thought a post dedicated to tempting desserts was in order.

image credit: thehungariangirl.com

  • Zuccotto Cupcakes - these delightful creations are a bit labor-intensive, but they taste amazing, and are well worth the effort.
  • Paczki - these Polish doughnuts are very popular in the U.S. on Mardi Gras. Like any bread recipe, they require quite a bit of preparation, and of course you have to fry them. They can be made just as they are, or you can inject them with a fruit or cream filling. 
  • Raspberry Brownies - These are so much better when made from scratch. I'm not going to post my secret recipe here, but I do have a couple of tips: use Ghirardelli chocolate, and mix in these Jam bits from King Arthur Flour.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Of Sandwiches and Shawls

"O, wind, if winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" - Shelley

This has been a very mild winter for the U.S., but we've had some chilly moments now and then. One cold day when snow was being dumped on us and the roads weren't plowed, my mother and I raided the fridge and the pantry and came up with these tasty sandwiches for lunch.

Toasted Ham, Apple, and Cheddar Sandwich
Makes: 12 or more
 You will need:
  • thin-sliced ham
  • 2 apples, washed and cut into thin, vertical slices
  • thin-sliced cheddar cheese
  • 1 french baguette, cut into slices
  • a good-quality stone ground mustard
  • butter
Wash and cut the apple, slice the bread and prepare the ingredients. Turn on the broiler of your oven (if you don't have a broiler, set it to 350 degrees F).
Spread each slice of bread with a thin layer of butter. Then spread them with a decent amount of mustard (as much, or as little, as you prefer). Pile 1 slice of ham, 1 slice of apple and 1/2 slice of cheddar cheese on each piece of bread. Arrange on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven/under the broiler for 1-2 minutes. Cheese should be melted and covering the sandwich, and should be golden brown in places. If they're not done after 1-2 minutes, keep them in the oven for one minute at a time, staying nearby and ready to check that they don't burn. Serve immediately.

Knitting-wise, the Wine and Roses shawl is coming along nicely, and I have yarn for both the Tahoe and Evenstar shawls (and beads for the Tahoe). Then my mother pointed out that I haven't made her a nice, big lace shawl yet. So, out came the lace pattern book, and she promptly chose this one:

image credit: Mauri

This is the Feather and Fan shawl. After the Wine and Roses shawl is done, this project should prove a nice little reprieve from really challenging lace knitting (Two years ago, I would've gone pale at the thought of undertaking this kind of pattern, let along the Wine and Roses one. Amazing how jumping head-first into a pattern marked "experienced" and not utterly failing can change your perspective).


Saturday, February 11, 2012

In All Humility and Anticipation

"Life is a long lesson in humility" - James M. Barrie

Well, I had fully intended my next post to be about my stunning victory with Macarons, and have images of adorable little dessert sandwiches in pretty colors to grace my blog. But sometimes we need a kick in the ego to remind us we're still human.

image credit: Colette Obrien

The Macarons did not come out anywhere near what I was hoping they would be (think pancake sandwiches instead), but they still tasted good. If you do invest in the book I mentioned in my previous post, avoid doing the "easiest, fastest method" for mixing them - the key seems to be in whipping, or mixing the batter to make it "fluffy" enough. So, go for either the French, Italian or Swiss method, and do this on a day when you have nothing else going on. Next March, I'm hoping to make the following two combinations to mark St. Patrick's Day, and not have them turn into pancakes again:
  • Mint shells with Chocolate-Mint Ganache
  • Sesame shells with Maple Bacon Bourbon filling

Meanwhile, on the knitting front, my head is full of visions of lace shawls. Besides the Wine and Roses shawl I'm currently making, this shawl is next on the knitting to-do list:

image credit: Susan Pandorf

This is the Evenstar Shawl that I wrote about in a previous post. It's based on the character of Arwen from the Lord of the Rings books. I have the yarn, but need to get my hands on the right kind of circular needles. This pattern calls for about 3000 seed beads which are to go just along the edge, but since they don't really show up all that much, and don't appear anywhere else in the shawl, I will just do without them.

I've been wanting to make a real Shetland Lace shawl for quite a while, but patterns are scarce, and many of them are outside of my skill level. I wandered through the Ravelry.com pattern database multiple times without having any luck finding a Shetland-esque shawl within my skill level that had a downloadable pattern. And then, after a second glance, I settled on this one:

image credit: Nazanin S. Fard

The Tahoe Shawl. It's a triangle-shape with lots of lace knitting, and pearl beads methodically scattered all over it. Besides the eyelets, there are beads at the base of each "Tulip" and at the tips of the lace ruffle at the edge. I played with the idea of knitting this in a dark color (such as a Sapphire blue or Emerald green) to set off the pearl beads more, but the delicacy of it leans more towards a Natural, or Off-White shade. Besides, Shetland shawls are devoid of color, and even though this is not a real Shetland pattern, the effect is close enough.

So many shawls, so little time...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Birthday Macarons, Pt. 1

"So mayest thou live, dear! many years, in all the bliss that life endears." - Thomas Hood

My wonderful mother's birthday is this month. To celebrate, we're branching out into French pastry baking with this cookbook devoted to Macarons.

No, these are not mounds of shredded coconut held together with egg whites. They are much more. SO much more.

image credit: The French Touch

A light, crunchy shell filled with a soft, chewy filling. In as many colors and delicious flavor combinations as you can desire, both sweet and savory. Oh yes, folks, we have a winner.

 So, for mom's birthday, we are making the following two flavors at her request, one sweet and one savory:
  • Raspberry-White Chocolate Caramel filling inside Pistachio shells
  • Goat Cheese-Rosemary filling inside Parsley shells
But, as may be expected, these delightful concoctions require specialized ingredients. We will need:

Almond Flour

Almond Flour is difficult to make at home - if not carefully done, it can become a paste instead. Unless you're feeling adventurous, I recommend ordering it from Nuts Online, where they also sell...

Pistachio Flour

...Pistachio Flour. We only need this to make the Pistachio shells - the Almond flour is used in all other types of shells that aren't nut flavored.

Dried Egg Whites

Dried egg whites can be found at the King Arthur Flour website.

Piping Bags

Piping bags are needed for piping the shells as well as the filling.

To be continued...

Monday, February 6, 2012

To Dye by Hand

"To die, to sleep - to sleep, perchance to dream." - "Hamlet," Shakespeare

When I was a kid, my mom taught me and a group of homeschool girls how to dye yarn at home using Kool-Aid powder. The bright, fruity-colored yarns looked good enough to eat, and as soon as they dried we were happily making tube socks, bean bags, scarves, etc.

Fast-forward 10-plus years: now that I'm a knitting fanatic, I love hand-dyed yarns, particularly specialty ones that have multiple colors and shades in one skein and beautiful names to correspond (I could browse through the Verdant Gryphon website's yarn section for hours).
But, sadly, I am not a millionaire's wife, and therefore cannot justify spending what little money I make on yarns with price-tags meant for millionaire's wives.

Enter this book:

image credit: Amazon.com

With a spiral binding, easily-understood steps and pictures to correspond, this book takes the ol' Kool-Aid process to the next level. It has instructions for how to make beautiful personalized, variegated yarns in the comfort of your own kitchen, and also helps you figure out which colors and shades work together.

But wait, where does one find un-dyed yarn at reasonable prices, or dye powders that don't look like you snitched them from a preschooler's lunch box?

Enter KnitPicks.

The lovely, brilliant people here have somehow worked out a way to sell beautiful, luxury yarns at affordable prices. And, they have "Bare" yarns in all weights, as well as acid dye powders in a wide array of colors and shades.

Hasta la Vista, Kool-Aid.

To be continued...

A Gathering of Saffron

"An orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard with saffron...with all choice spices - a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon." - Solomon 4:13-15 ESV

Crocus Sativus, the Saffron Crocus

About four years ago, when I traveled through Greece on a summer study abroad trip, I bought a small box of Greek red saffron, which I fully intended to use once back home. Four years later, I've used my little stash maybe once since acquiring it. So, I've started looking up saffron recipes to try this year. Here are a few which I hope to make soon:

Saffron is the stigma of the Crocus Sativus that is gathered, dried, crushed and used in everything from meals to dyes to medicine. Real Saffron gives off a taste like honey. If you can get your hands on the real thing without busting the bank, it's well worth the price.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Love and Chocolate

"Nobody minds having what is too good for them." - Jane Austen

"The wings of the Ostrich wave proudly, but are they the pinions and plumage of love? For she leaves her eggs to the earth...forgetting that a foot may crush them." - Job 39:13-15 ESV

Valentine's Day seems to have become an occasion for intense joy and intense grief - rarely does anyone view it simply as a "happy" holiday. Those who are in love revel in their mad joy, and those who are not in love hate it because they are alone.
Personally, I am all in favor of celebrating love, regardless of my relationship status - and when I say love, I mean self-sacrificial, enduring love. The kind known by mothers for their children, friends for their dear friends, an old married couple for each other, and especially God for his people.

So, that being said, what better way to celebrate love than with chocolate?

Here are several delicious chocolate recipes to choose from:
  • Tuxedo chocolate-dipped strawberries; You can always choose to make regular chocolate-dipped strawberries, but these are just too adorable to miss.
  • Chocolate-dipped candied orange peel; who doesn't love orange and chocolate together?
  • Chocolate Nougat; only attempt this if you have experience in candy cooking, as well as enough time and patience. Otherwise, this could end up being a sticky mess. But if you are brave enough to attempt it, it's one of those recipes that is sure to be memorable.

Happy Valentine's Day!