Friday, February 26, 2010

Four-Patch Birthday Banner

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I’ve been wanting to make a new birthday banner for family. And while I love the ones I sell in my etsy shop, I have literally made hundreds of them in the same color scheme so I’m a bit tired of seeing the same fabrics day in and day out. So I decided to make a totally unique one with four-inch squares of fabric. If you too wanna be like me (or at least like my banner) cut 56 4” squares of fabric. (Happy Birthday has 14 letters but I made a ‘blank’ patch to go in the middle.)
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Then you gotta pair ‘em up and sew 28 pairs together so they look like this:
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Then you gotta pair ‘em up one more time (oh, come on, chain piece them and they’ll go real quick like) and soon you’ll have 14 squares approximately 7 1/4”
Back them, make some rope, fuse the letters, and you’re all done! Just in time for my son’s birthday Monday! And for all our family birthdays. Phew!
(If you need the pattern because this blew your mind, you can find it in my etsy shop.)

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Homemade Bread

We’re in the dog days of winter here in Utah. It’s snowing as I write this which means for at least one more day I will not see any sunshine. (*wipes proverbial tears*) It’s depressing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of depressed person who stays in bed all day with PJs and bad breath due to depression. Rather, my ‘winter blues’ lead me to avoid the already mundane laundry and bake instead. I guess I’m grasping for anything that will bring a little sunshine in my life. For me, that’s baking. So that’s what I did yesterday—I baked bread. It made me happy, it made my kids very happy, and it helped me get through at least one more horrific day of winter.

I usually make 2 loaves of bread at a time. If my mixer could handle more dough, I would make 4 or 5. But I’ll settle for two. Never settle for one loaf. Why bother? You gotta eat one loaf hot and save the other for dinner and breakfast. :)

baking bread 1

The best way to know when you’ve added enough flour is when the dough pulls away from the side of the mixer. I always use more than the recipe requires. I still scratch my head over that one. In other words, it no longer looks like the above picture, but looks like the one below.

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I then dump the dough into a well greased bowl and set it in my warm oven for 1 hour to rise. I warm my oven by heating it up for 2-3 minutes then turning it off. Why? Because even with the heater at 70 degrees my house is too cold to have the dough rise in just 1 hour. And I’m impatient.

baking bread 3

Ah, that’s better, now it’s been an hour and the dough is doubled. (Sorry the photo is yellowed. Too lazy to fix it.) Shape your dough into loaves, place in greased 9x5 bread pans, spray the dough, cover in plastic wrap, and place back in warm oven for 30 minutes. (You might have to heat the oven for 2-3 minutes again.)

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Wow, the magic of yeast never ceases to amaze me! Not bad for just 30 minutes puffifying in the oven, huh? Now you need to heat your oven to 350, remove the saran wrap, then put the bread back in the oven to bake for 40-50 minutes and until it reaches the magic number of 195 degrees.  Using a thermometer ensures your bread will be perfectly cooked without being too dry.

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Remove from pans, slather with butter for a softer crust (I don’t like my crust crunchy for this kind of bread… for garlic bread, that’s a different story). Resist the urge to cut it up for at least 15 minutes. Distribute warm slices to the restless natives with butter, jam, cinnamon sugar, whatever. And give yourself 10 points in the Mother of the Year contest.

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SANDWICH BREAD (makes 1 loaf—double this as many times as your mixer will allow) (originally from or American Classics)

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use half wheat flour…which removes some guilt in slathering later with butter)

2 tsp salt

1 cup milk or water, very warm but not hot

1/3 cup water, very warm but not hot

2 T melted butter

3 T honey

2 1/4 tsp instant yeast


1. Mix flour and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix milk, water, butter, honey, and yeast in 1-quart Pyrex liquid measuring cup. Turn machine to low and slowly add liquid. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium (setting number 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) and mix until dough is smooth and satiny, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds.

3. Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, 40 to 50 minutes.

4. Form dough into loaf by gently pressing the dough into a rectangle, one inch thick and no wider than the length of the loaf pan. Next, roll the dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn dough seam side up and pinch it closed. Place dough in greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and press gently so dough touches all four sides of pan.

5. Cover with plastic wrap; set aside in warm spot until dough almost doubles in size, 20 to 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees, placing empty loaf pan on bottom rack. Bring 2 cups water to boil. (I never do the water in the oven thing. Too lazy.)

6. Remove plastic wrap from loaf pan. Place pan in oven, immediately pouring heated water into empty loaf pan; close oven door. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted at angle from short end just above pan rim into center of loaf reads 195 degrees, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove bread from pan, transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Red Letter Day

red velvet5 copyCupcakes are in. Red velvet cake is in. But red velvet cupcakes are very in. Yesterday I attempted to make this southern delight for the very first time. And I was not disappointed. red velvet1 copyTrust me (or not) they taste even better than they look. Of course, I went to my favorite book for baking. I was drawn to this recipe over every other recipe I researched on the internet because this recipe used the nectar of the gods--butter-- instead of vegetable oil. I knew that would make a cupcake tasty enough to eat without frosting. Not to worry, I topped them off anyway with a vanilla icing good enough to make your eyes roll back. My kids loved them, the hubby loved them, and I even sent one home with a drooling neighborhood child who longingly watched me ice them. The only stressful part was begging the kids to not stain anything with their red fingers as they licked the bowl.

Red Velvet Cupcakes red velvet2 copy

1 ½ sticks softened butter

1 ½ cups sugar

2 ¼ cups all purpose flour*

1 ½ tsp baking soda*

pinch of salt

2 T. cocoa powder

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1 T. vinegar

1 tsp vanilla

2 T. red food coloring (1 oz. bottle)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Combine flour, soda, salt, and cocoa powder in a separate bowl. Combine the rest of the wet ingredients in a large measuring cup with a pourable spout. With mixer on low speed, add 1/3 of the flour to butter mixture, followed by ½ of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture and the remaining buttermilk mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined. Fill cupcake tins ½ full. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool, then frost. (Frosting: Beat 1 ½ sticks of butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, and 2 T. cream, splash of vanilla, till light and fluffy.) Can also be frosted with your favorite cream cheese icing.

*For Utah high altitude modifications (4500ft.) , I did the following: Add 2 extra T. flour and only 1 tsp of soda. If you live at high altitude and do not make these changes, your cupcakes will be too wet and probably ‘cave’ in during baking.


April 5, 2010: I am adding this to one of my favorite websites—iheartfaces, hence the button added here.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Grandpa’s Quilt

DSC_0392 copy My Grandpa Ed has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). It’s an awful disease that robs you of every voluntary movement you can imagine—limb movement, speaking, swallowing, etc. Ironically, it rarely affects your brain. My Grandpa  Ed is a citrus/avocado rancher in Southern California. He likes to tell us about how his Dad sold some of their ranch land to build Disneyland and how they planted the trees  there too. Supposedly my Grandpa was offered a life time pass to Disneyland but he turned it down.  That’s Grandpa—no fluffy entertainment for him. He was always too busy grafting trees and catching rattlesnakes on the ranch to worry about spending time with mouse ears. As a child I always remember him saying in his very deep voice, “I’m a mountain man!” Seeing as I live 500 miles away, there isn’t much I can do to help him in his ailing condition. But my amazing family and extended family have really pulled through since my Grandma’s death 3 weeks ago—staying nights with him, feeding him homemade pureed soups, driving him to doctor appointments, cleaning his home, you name it.
So my sister Patty and I decided to do the one thing we could do—show Grandpa we love him by making him a quilt. Despite Patty’s busy full-time work schedule (she lives near me), she made quite a few squares in just 2 days! Then together we layered the backing, batting, and quilt top. We stretched, we pinned and got it all ready for the quilting process. I finished it off with my hands and tears working overtime, and tomorrow the post office will take it away. I hope this mountain man knows how much he’s meant to all of us—even if he has ‘just’ been our step Grandpa. As an adoptive mom, trust me, I know that blood doesn’t make a family—relationships and love do.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring Rolls

I am sure I have mentioned here before how much I love, love, love Thai food.  And when I get a craving for it, watch out. Two days ago I had lunch with my sweety at Thai Ruby here in Provo.  Their Beef Salad and Tom Ka Gai (Tangy coconut chicken soup) are my favorites. I get those two (and more)  every time we go. But unfortunately, they do not have spring rolls on the menu. And I don’t quite have the guts to make that suggestion. But I should, because I am bossy. I’ll think about it.  After all, they owe me because twice I’ve tried to go their when my craving leads me to near madness only to find a sign on the door “Vacationing in Thailand”. I drag my hands now the glass door crying “No, please!”

And then there is the Thai House is Lehi on Main Street. Now thank goodness they have proper spring rolls! Mmmmm…mmm..mmm they are so good. And their wonton soup is to die for. What did you just say? You don’t know what spring rolls are. (*audible gasp*) They are kind of like an egg roll but the ‘skin’ is a thin piece of rice paper filled with fresh veggies, lots of cilantro and mint. Basically, a rolled up salad with a tangy dipping sauce. Usually when I make them I eat so many I make myself nearly sick and then don’t make them again for a few more months. Well, today was the blessed day that the spring roll making returned to our household. Paul even helped! And my good ol’ Mexican enchilada-rolling skills always come in handy when making these. I like Martin Yan’s recipe from his Quick and Easy book (love this book!), but any recipe will do that’s loaded with veggies and mint. (Look on Food Network’s site.) But do follow his suggestion of just brushing the rice paper rolls with warm water and letting them sit for 30 seconds before rolling. That technique works much better than soaking them in hot water. That technique always yields ripped rice paper rolls and an angry Cynthia.  My photos are ugly in this post, but trust me, the food was delish.

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To make things even yummier tonight I did my best to imitate the aforementioned Thai House’s wonton soup. I’d never made Wonton Soup but after seeing these recipes by Veeda in the Daily Herald the other day, I knew I had to to give it a go.  After all, it is the Olympics and I have the Olympic spirit. Sort of.  Wow!!! So good, so good, so good. Did I mention how good this soup recipe was? Try it. Thanks Veeda! (This beautiful photo is from her fab website White Lotus Cooks.)won ton soup.jpg

Forget Me Nots

I love this sweet and modern bouquet of forget-me-nots flowers. I digitized this one pretty easily since it’s just circles with stems. But already it’s one of my favorites. Who says flowers can’t be turquoise with gray stems?
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Macaroni and Cheese

DSC_0318 copyI mentioned in my previous post that my Grandma is the first person who taught me to make Mac n’ Cheese. Now, I still love my Grandma’s recipe, but nowadays I prefer my macaroni made with a bechamel sauce and a good pound of sharp cheddar with gruyere (or regular swiss is fine too). I usually make Martha Stewart’s recipe as found in Favorite Comfort Food but this time I tried Barefoot Contessa’s recipe—complete with sliced tomatoes on top. I really liked it. Then again, what’s not to like with all that cheese and breadcrumbs?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Farewell Grandma!

I lost my Grandma almost two weeks ago. Although she was 79 years old, it still was not expected. My friend Laurie put it best--when you lose a grandparent, you feel very small again. I've felt very small lately and miss her already.

My Grandma was an excellent seamstress and not too many years ago said to me, "They don't even teach you how to do flat-felled seams anymore in home ec. classes!" I was quickly thankful that I knew how to do a flat-felled seam so that I could swing my arm in mock exasperation with my Grandma and say, "Yea, why not?!"
My Grandma was an excellent cook. She helped start my first recipe box when I was 10 years old. The first recipes I wrote down? Her macaroni and cheese--complete with a can of evaporated milk and chopped onions and of course, egg nog. She decorated wedding cakes, entered and won recipe contests, and wrote recipes for her local paper. I loved her 'Flub Dub', her homemade chocolate Easter eggs, her avocado pie (Grandpa was a citrus and avocado rancher) and her pomegranate jelly made from her own tree of course. She made the best animal pancakes when my parents were out of town and we always looked forward to those visits.

She died on Ilene's birthday so I cried that day as I made my daughter a homemade chocolate cake. Although sad, I thought it fitting that I baked a cake the day I lost her. I had wanted to make her a red velvet cake and thought I would call up Grandma and ask her what she knew about red velvet cakes. But I never got the chance.

Yesterday I read the food section in the paper and clipped out a recipe for a Chinese Wonton Soup. As I did so, I smiled and thought of Grandma and her endless clippings of recipes from newspapers as well. I was sure she was smiling too. Farewell Grandma! I hope you get to teach cooking classes in Heaven because Heaven wouldn't be Heaven without you and delicious food.


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