Crafting · Decorating

Felted Valentine’s Day Garlands


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My newest fascination is with wool felt balls. Why? Because they are adorable, inexpensive, and make my home festive. I bought 200 in multiple colors just before Christmas to string for garland for the tree. I loved the garland SO much that I decided to purchase more in Valentine’s day hues.

I ordered the felt balls online from TaDaaStudios and I have to say, the packaging is adorable.

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I strung up a few shades of pink with white and hung them in the kitchen…

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Detail of the embroidered heart
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Side view of the garland draping on the bakers rack

…and on the menu board…

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…and I can’t help myself, so I’ll share with you AGAIN, my fabulous felt Valentine’s Day calaveras (skulls) from last year–though I couldn’t do them justice being housed in Amman.

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…and since I’m on a roll, I’ll just add one last Valentine’s day touch in the kitchen…another embroidered tea towel.

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Happy pre-Valentine’s day and stay tuned for my next Easter garland.

Cooking

Mac & Four Cheese Gratin with Truffle Oil in Le Creuset’s Mini Cocottes


I’ve been eyeing these beauties for years–these Le Creuset mini cocottes in red. (These are the enameled iron one’s, not the pottery versions). Perhaps I’ve been drawn to these beauties because of their diminutive size, or maybe it’s because of their name–cocotte. You do know what a cocotte is, right? Yes, one definition is ‘a shallow baking dish,’ but the other? Look it up. Meanings aside, it’s their impracticality that makes them so appealing to me–perfect for a Valentine’s Day meal.

What can you possibly make in these mini Dutch ovens, you may ask? The possibilities are endless. I imagine adorable little pot pies, souffles, soups, appetizers…and Mac & Cheese!

I chose to make Mac & Cheese in an attempt to recreate one of my favorite dishes from Cheesetique in Alexandria. This is definitely not low-calorie, but come on, Valentine’s Day only comes around once a year, so I splurged.

Macaroni and Four Cheese Gratin with Truffle Oil

Adapted from Le Creuset’s Mac & Cheese Recipe

This recipe serves 4, but I only have two mini cocottes, so I put the remaining mac and cheese in a small Le Creuset baker.

Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 18 oz winter durum wheat macaroni
  • 1 oz (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, plus 1 tbl
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 oz Gorgonzola
  • 2 oz Fontina
  • 2 oz Marscarpone
  • 2 oz Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 cup panko or bread crumbs
  • Truffle oil, to taste (I drizzled a teaspoon or so on each mini)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Tip: Cheeses with higher fat content melt better than those that with a lower one! So combine your favorites: creamy Fontina, Gorgonzola, buffalo mozzarella, Parmigano Reggiano.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly butter 2 mini cocottes (and the small baker, or ramekins) .
  2. Cook macaroni in boiling salted water for about 8 minutes; it should be al dente; not entirely cooked.  Pass the pasta under cold running water to stop them from cooking.
  3. Melt the butter in a small pan over a low flame. Add the cream, the Gorgonzola,
    the Fontina, the Marscarpone and the Parmigiano Reggiano (reserving 4
    tablespoons for the top). Stir the cheese until all are well melted. Add salt and
    freshly ground pepper to taste.
  4. In a separate pan, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Once it’s melted, add the panko or breadcrumbs to lightly coat.
  5. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and divide into 2 mini-cocottes and baker dish. Sprinkle the
    rest of the Parmigiano Reggiano over each cocotte along with a little bit of panko or breadcrumbs to your liking. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and crusty looking. On taking them out of the oven, let them rest for 5 minutes before serving. Drizzle a little bit of truffle oil on each, to taste.

Baking

Will Run for Cupcakes


I’m training for an upcoming relay race–a very LONG, overnight, tiring run. Years ago, when we were still living in San Clemente (and living the fantasy), a storm called Sprinkles Cupcakes hit us hard. So hard were we hit that Raj used to leave work early on Fridays (let me clarify so as not to upset someone–this was considered physical training, PT, so it was a sanctioned, early leave from work) for what became known as the ‘Sprinkles’ Run.’ I suppose this ‘run’ isn’t as bad as it sounds, I mean he was burning calories by running, right? Raj would meet up with a small group of ‘work’ friends and fellow cupcake enthusiasts who set out on a five-mile run followed up by a jaunt into Sprinkles for a cupcake or two. Well actually, he’d call ahead and have a dozen cupcakes in various flavors (an on a good day, a shot of frosting for me) waiting to be picked up for himself, and me, and our dog Shanti. (Sprinkles makes great doggie cupcakes called ‘pupcakes.’) I could never meet up for these runs because I was too busy working, supporting the habit,…but that was a lifetime ago.
These days, I’m too busy looking for things to do. In honor of Raj’s ‘cupcake runs’ and because Valentine’s Day is just two days away, I decided to make these Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes.
I thought they turned out great. I was nervous about getting the frosting just right as the reviews on MarthatStewart.com were horrible–the frosting is runny, there’s not enough liquid, too much liquid, it’s disgusting…EXPLETIVES were seen in TWO reviews; it was that bad, seriously. After reading the reviews, I fought the urge to spend way too much money on imported, Betty Crocker “Strawberry” (artificially) flavored and brightly colored frosting at the grocery store. With trepidation, I continued on. It did take a few minutes in the mixer for the butter and powdered sugar to come together, but eventually they did. The frosting was perfect and slightly pink thanks to the addition of the REAL strawberry puree that I added.
Next up on the worry list was frosting the cupcakes. I don’t like the look of piped cupcakes (not home-made enough looking) and I prefer the dimpled look of Magnolia Bakery’s cupcakes to Sprinkles’. I was relatively happy with my attempts. In the course of my cupcake research yesterday, I read that it takes about forty hours of on the job cupcake frosting training to get the ‘dimple’ just right. I only have about 38 hours of training left to go.

Lastly, I added a few pale pink sprinkles that I’ve been hording in the larder for years (unsure why, courtesy of Nicole’s trip to Rome), along with a homemade heart-shaped sugar cookie (recipe which will be posted, next).

Sprinkles’ Strawberry Cupcakes

This recipe for strawberry cupcakes is from Candace Nelson of Sprinkles Cupcakes.

The recipe comes from The Martha Stewart Show, February Winter 2008

  • YieldMakes 1 dozen

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup whole fresh or frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 2 large egg whites, room temperature
  • Sprinkles’ Strawberry Frosting (follows)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.
  2. Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree, add a few more strawberries if necessary or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree; set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.
  5. With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.
  6. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

Sprinkles’ Strawberry Frosting

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup whole frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, firm and slightly cold
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 3 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Place strawberries in the bowl of a small food processor; process until pureed. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter and salt on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce mixer speed and slowly add confectioners’ sugar; beat until well combined. Add vanilla and 3 tablespoons strawberry puree (save any remaining strawberry puree for another use); mix until just blended. Do not overmix or frosting will incorporate too much air. Frosting consistency should be dense and creamy, like ice cream.
Crafting · Decorating

Crafting for Bored People: Valentine’s Day Calaveras (Sugar Skull) Decoration


Valentine's Day Garland Hanging on Bookshelf

It’s amazing what I find myself doing these days just to stay busy. Can I blame it on reading Amy Sedaris’ Simple Times, Crafts for Poor People? Probably not, although I do owe her a debt of gratitude for comedic relief.  I’m the kind of person who NEEDS to do something at almost ALL times, driving Raj crazy with my manic drive to complete each new project in as little time as possible. (This is what type-A’s do when they’re NOT working. They put ALL of their energy into something, anything trying to forget that they have nothing to do.) Whether I’m watching TV, relaxing, or just talking to Raj, I like having something to work on in my hands. I’m still baking and cooking, but as you can imagine, that gets dangerous–being faced with cookies, cakes, and stashes of sweets haunting you ALL day, each and every time you set foot into the kitchen. So…in the past few months, I’ve revisited crafts that I haven’t done since junior high school (i.e. cross stitching) and have taken up some new ones, a la felt garland making, or whatever you want to call this.  This is what my life has become–craft central.

My latest project involves my affection for all things Day of the Dead–which has nothing to do with Valentine’s day, but who cares? I made this Valentine’s Day Sugar Skull garland out of felt, which I imagine hanging on the mantle of our (as of yet, non-existent) house back in DC. (It somehow doesn’t look as good hanging from the bookcase here in Amman, in a place that isn’t all abuzz in Valentine’s Day decor, as I imagine it will look back in the US.) The garland is comprised of eight calaveras (skulls): four moustached males and four flower bedecked females with nine hearts in between the skulls. Prior to this project, I didn’t know how to embroider, but look at me now. I’ve mastered chain stitch, blanket stitch, back-stitch, and French knots.

A must have on any bookshelf if ever you find yourself living in the Middle East

In addition to this project and in keeping in line with the theme, I’ve also completed another skull garland, this one for Halloween.

Halloween Garland
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And my next project? I think I need to move away from the skulls, possibly to something more lively. I’m open to suggestions.