Monday, November 30, 2009

More of those little Felt Birdies....

It's that time of year again already. Time to step it up and finish up projects for Christmas. I think it's nice for kids to have their own ornaments that have meaning to them. Ike already has a little collection of ornaments that he has made over the years in school and at home and every year when we put up the tree he loves to take them out, retell how and when they were made, or who gave them to him and to find just the right spot for them on the tree. This year I think I'll make an ornament just for him, and these felt ornaments are quick, easy and cute to whip up. They also make for worry free shipping if you are making it for a friend far away. The one pictured here arrived last week at it's new home in Minnesota. It is similar to one I made here, and hopefully it is the second of several that I'll make this year. The first one is pictured here. If you need a quick little something to give in the holiday season these are certainly quick, easy, and cute. Stay tuned for more gift giving quick crafts as my count down to the hectic holiday continues..........

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cannoli for the first time:)

It's Baker's Challenge time again.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

There was an added challenge for me with this challenge as I had no access to cannoli forms other than through the internet which would have been unnecessarily expensive due to the postage. Fortunately, my father was coming out for a visit and my hometown is filled with Italian grocers and stores. It timed out perfectly and dad brought me out a package to try the challenge with. After reading the recipe, the dough and deep frying reminded me very much of something my grandmother and mother made on special occasions when I was growing up. They made Khrustyky a few times per year and it was always a special treat. While Khrustyky dough contains egg and has no filling, the pastry was somewhat similar. So it seemed natural to use up the dough scraps in the style of a Khrustyky.
While I am not a fan of deep frying...partly because it seems so terribly bad for you....and partly because since I don't deep fry very seems like such a waste of oil.....I don't have issues with trying something deep fried now and again. I was pretty interested to try this one out. It was not difficult, but with all the fillings and was time consuming. Will I ever do it again??....probably for some special occasion, maybe even the neighbourhood Christmas dinner.
The recipe is provided below, plus a delicious sounding Pumpkin filling that I will try in the future.........for now, I chose to fill my cannoli with English custard using eggnog and rum flavouring rather than milk and vanilla, and omitting the sugar as the eggnog was more than sweet enough. I found the small amount of cocoa in the recipe below was enough to make the dough quite chocolaty in colour and you did need to be careful not to brown them too much. So far the Khrustyky have two thumbs up from the boys and the verdict is still to come back from the neighbours on the filled cannoli. If you'd like to see the results of some other Daring Bakers, have a look here, there are lots to choose from.

2 cups (250 grams/8.82 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners' sugar

Note - If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax).

2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios

Note - If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2 Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3 Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer's directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

1/2 cup (123 grams/4.34 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1/2 cup (113 grams/4.04 ounces) mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup (122.5 grams/4.32 ounces) canned pumpkin, drained like ricotta
3/4 cup (75 grams/2.65 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1/2 to 1 teaspoon (approx. 1.7 grams/approx. 0.06 ounces) pumpkin pie spice (taste)
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 2 grams/approx. 0.08 ounces) pure vanilla extract
6-8 cannoli shells

1. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta and mascarpone until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl, cover and chill until it firms up a bit. (The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

2. Fill the shells as directed above. I dipped the ends of the shells in caramelized sugar and rolled them in toasted, chopped pecans.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pudding Time!.....Yorkshire that is.

Tonight we took the opportunity to try yet another recipe from America's Test Kitchen. It had been on the list for quite some time and tonight since we were having roast was the right time for us. Pretty much any time we have a roast beef of any cut.....we have Yorkshire Pudding. I have had some batches turn out well and others not so consistency in I was not opposed to trying what America's Test Kitchen promised to be perfect Yorkshire Puddings or Pop Overs. I must say that I did enjoy them and will definitely try them again......hopefully next time with a proper pop over pan. I have a very oddly shaped muffin pan with straight up sides which are also very probably not the right shape for a proper pop over. They did rise up well as promised, and also had a lovely moist interior almost like a cream puff. The recipe makes enough batter to make 6 pop overs....but in my oddly shaped muffin pan it made 12 filled straight up to the top of the cups. I did not take into account that I probably should have had a slightly decreased bake time since my pop overs were much smaller. Never the less...while their shape was not quite what it should be......they were quite good. If you are looking for the recipe to try.... here it is.

America's Test Kitchen Yorkshire Puddings

3 large eggs beaten well
2 cups low fat milk warmed to 110F
3 T butter melted and set to cool

2 cups bread flour or all purpose
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

Preheat oven to 400F.
In a medium bowl, beat eggs well and then beat in the milk and melted butter. In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Add 3/4 of the egg mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well with a whisk to remove the lumps. Add remaining egg mixture and stir till smooth. Cover bowl and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Stir batter before using. Pour batter into 6 greased and floured pop over pans, or 12 muffin cups.
Put pan in oven for 20 minutes at 400F....then reduce heat without opening the door of the oven down to 300F. Bake an additional 30 minutes. Remove from oven and poke a hole down through the top of each pudding with a skewer. Return to oven for another 10 minutes until nicely browned.

Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Artist: Ike

Ike was pretty excited this week as he was lucky enough to be one of three children chosen from his class to display a piece of his artwork in a children's art showing at the university. After a bit of poking around at the showing, we found Ike's art. The tag beside is read, 'Artist: Ike'........and we figured there would only be one Ike there. Ike chose to send in his 'Pumpkins and Ghosts' picture done in wax crayon resist. He did as very careful job colouring in his ghosts with white crayon on white paper before covering it all with black paint....... (Very hard to see where you have coloured).....and it turned out beautifully! And Grampa thinks so too! Congratulations on your first art showing Ike:)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Sushi Roll Party

Another Cooks Challenge is out of the way! The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge.
This month I enlisted the participation of one of my neighbourhood friends to help me with the challenge. When I mentioned to her that I would be making some sushi rolls this past week she asked if she could take part.....and since cooking is always more fun with friends...I did not say no. I have made California type rolls before, but had never tried to make any inside out rolls or nigiri sushi I was interested to try this challenge. I am a big fan of bento box meals and do like the ones with some rolls included, but am not a big fan of sashimi. I have found that I most appreciate the flavour of raw tuna.....but never raw salmon. With that in mind I decided that my inside out 'dragon roll' would be based on a spicy tuna roll, my nori covered roll would be essentially a California roll using shrimp rather than pollack, and that my nigiri would be topped with shrimp.
We ended up making the 'sushi' on Remembrance Day and to my surprise, my local grocery store carried sashimi grade tuna....complete with instructions on how to slice it. Christine made rolls with California type fillings, and some with smoked salmon mixed with a bit of mayonnaise. The rolls all turned out well, but I found that forming the nigiri is a skill that I need a little practice with. Never the less, the rolls and nigiri were consumed without complaint. If you would like to see some other Daring Cooks and their creations check them out here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Work in Progress

I have had the compulsion to start a knitting project ever since the weather turned cold. Well, I found a quick little one skein project that I think will fill that need to knit. The lack of knitting supplies in Prince George has been more than a little frustrating, and while there is no way I was going to be able to find the yarn called for in the pattern..........I grudgingly settled on a yarn with some alpaca content to give me the softness I was looking for. My replacement yarn was not the size requested by the pattern so an adjustment in needle size was needed to knit the required gauge. After a cranky bit of swatch knitting (I hate knitting swatches) to confirm I wouldn't be making anything giant...........I was on my way.
I have not knit much in my life........and certainly not much since I was little. All I knew were the few stitches my grama had taught me. I remember sitting in her rocking chair knitting mittens in the round without a pattern many times with all her left over balls of colourful acrylic yarns. Grama was thrifty about many things and practical too, and without a doubt one of the most interesting people I've had the privilege to know (although I bet she never knew it). No doubt, for her, acrylic yarn offered a good long life to her many projects. I wonder if she would find my attraction to wool yarns wasteful. With this project I did manage to learn a new cast on and a new bind off and it's the first time I've used the technique of holding stitches by knitting them onto scrap yarn, so it has been a learning experience as well. Thank goodness for utube! So helpful to see a stitch being done....much more so than reading about how to do it.
Soon my little project will be done and I can show you the finished product and stop taunting the cat with what appears to be a delicious ball of yarn!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back into School Mode

Order is returning to my daily schedule now and I am starting to think about some new lunch options for Ike. Currently his favourite lunch is just cold cuts, cheese, crackers, sweet pickles, fruit and a cookie or something for dessert. ( today dessert is ginger sparkle cookies and a few Halloween treats) There are so many options when filling a bento box for a kids lunch......I think it might be time to try some new ones. We have tried boiled eggs with ranch dip, avocado salad, potato pancakes and ham, pikelets and fruit and cheese, and small finger sandwiches. I would like to try mini quiches or a frittata slice too. If you have any ideas...please let me know....we'd like to try something different too!
Since being home from work, I have missed the occasional trip to Vancouver and the trip to Daiso that came with it. Fortunately for me a coworker still makes these trips and he has been patient enough to fill my shopping list at Daiso for me. If only I could have a live camera to walk through the store with him. But of course that would only lead to spending more money......But come on.....this stuff is so kawaii....who could resist. And since it's a $2's pretty affordable....right?
Aren't those panda bento belts adorable??

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Goodbye Halloween....See you next year!

We are just settling down from Halloween now. It was a busy weekend with lots of trick or treating for Ike. Ike has very much missed trick or treating with his friends Rhys and Jasmine since they moved away. This year we were a little more prepared and asked a friend from school if Ike could come along. Trick or treating is always more fun in a group, and more so if there is running and screaming involved. The number of kids out for treats was way down in our neighbourhood this year....much more than expected. Lots of kids have been home sick, as it is flu season, I think this neighbourhood is growing up. This has left us with 70 left over chocolate bars. I wonder how long they will last??? Plus the two bags of candy that Ike brought home. I'm thinking this should last us right up until next year. I'm actually tired of looking at all the crazy is that?? Well, with all the decorating, costumes, running and fun and candy and fireworks it was definitely a memorable evening for Ike. What's not to like about Halloween?

This was the second year that Ike has shown interest in carving a pumpkin.......and since he was lucky enough to win one at the Halloween party......He had one all to himself. He picked out his pattern and with help from Dad to make sure he cut out the right areas....this is what he made.

With Halloween behind us......maybe I can be a little more productive now:) Off to start my day now. Have a great day and I hope you enjoyed your Halloween weekend as much as we did!