A Valentine Treat

Flowers From Julie

These beautiful flowers are not Valentine’s related, however: they’re from my friend Julie, who gave them to me a week ago. Admire how beautiful they still look!

When we were kids living in Los Angeles, our favorite treat in the whole wide world was fresh strawberries dipped in sour cream and brown sugar. So simple, yet so delicious. I didn’t have sour cream (or crème fraîche), but yogurt was just as good. I’d take this over the chocolate-dipped variety any day. Happy Valentine’s Day to us!

Strawberries Brown Sugar

Marie Claire Idées Spring Issue

We are back from a wonderful trip in Barcelona, and I have a lot of blogging to do about that. But first, look what came in the mail today! Probably one of the best ever issues of my favorite magazine, Marie Claire Idées.

Marie Claire Idées Spring Cover

Why is this one so awesome? For starters, there is a whole section on crafts inspired by cabbage and broccoli. Who would’ve thought of that? A crochet cabbage purse? Awesome.

Marie Claire Idées Spring 1

French samplers always seem to look cooler than the ones I grew up with. While I am not as ready as my friend Julie is to take on one of these, I do think the cross-stitch looks chic, and quite lovely over the beige fabric.

Marie Claire Idées Spring ABC

Maybe I’m getting a little excited for nothing big, but as some of you know, I have been collecting teacups from all over the world for the last 15 years. This issue devotes eight pages to English teacup-inspired crafts, from candelabras to mosaic dressers to a lamp made of stacked teacups and pots. Heaven!

Marie Claire Idées Spring Teacups

As always, the photography is very inspiring and makes me want to paint the walls pink and embroider every cloth in sight. I’m looking forward to reading the article on organic and natural cosmetics, as well as turning your kitchen “green” (literally and figuratively), with lots of crafts using recyclables. But first, I should really get back into organizing my Barcelona photos!

Deep-Dish Pizza

Giordanos
Giordano’s, home of the original Chicago deep dish pizza.

We are looking forward to many exciting things: Seth’s family is coming in mid-March, and my parents are coming just after, at the end of March. It’s been fun reserving a rental car, making calls to friends and planning for the trips. By the time they get here, our itinerary will be as packed as the Griswald’s.

In the midst of the excitement of planning and the need to get some serious work done, we tried a quick new recipe the other night. We decided to make pizza. We got all the toppings and our grocery store, Champion, even has its own brand of dough made without poly-hydrogenated oils (the bad dangerous fatty stuff found in most pre-made doughs). The only problem is that our oven is the size of a toaster and the only pan resembling a pizza pan is the one I use for quiche.

Thinking back to our trip to Chicago and the pizza we had at  Giordano’s gave me the idea of going “deep dish” and just piling all the toppings in and baking the pizza for a bit longer than usual.

The result? When cutting and serving, the cheese all came off and the mushrooms slid out, but in all, a delicious slice of home-made pizza we’ll be trying again.

Deep Dish Pizza
Our version, the pizza quiche.

Kings’ Cake

Galette des Rois

The holidays last and last when you’re living in France: here, they celebrate Epiphany with a kings’ cake, usually a layered cake flavored with almonds. Inside is a hidden bean (or now, usually a porcelain figurine). If you find it in your slice, you’re the king. The glory of wearing a metallic cardboard crown is surely worth a chipped tooth, n’est-ce-pas?

With Epiphany already almost a week over, we were happy to still find these galettes des rois sold in pastry shops and grocery stores. But if you’re not living in a place that sells galettes, or if you’d simply like to try to make one yourself, check out Richard Nahem’s recipe over at Eye Prefer Paris. By the way, if you’re looking for an entertaining, knowledgeable custom tour of Paris, Richard’s talents as a guide are as awesome as his cooking ability.

Hot Chocolate Spoons

Chocolate Spoons Box

I am still aiming for a home-made Christmas, and who doesn’t enjoy sweet treats? Help your friends add a festive touch to a cozy cup of hot cocoa with a chocolate-dipped spoon. I made 30 of these spoons to give away to our friends in Paris, along with some good ol’ fashioned chocolate chip cookies. To the left are caramels from La Cure Gourmande.

What you need:
Disposable spoons (I considered using inexpensive metal ones, but didn’t know if the chocolate would stick, so I stuck with plastic.)
2 bars chocolate, the darker the better (in my opinion); I used 76% cocao organic chocolate bars from the grocery store)

What to do:
Break the chocolate up into chunks and put them in a non-stick sauce pan. I skipped the complicated procedures of using a bain marie (double boiler) and instead just melted the chocolate on the lowest heat setting.

1 Chocolate Spoons

When the chocolate starts to melt, be sure you are stirring fairly constantly to help all the chunks soften.

2 Chocolate Spoons

When the chocolate is melted, keep the heat on low and dip each spoon into the chocolate, using a twisting motion. I found it easiest to scoop the chocolate in the spoon and then twist the spoon around and around until the front and back were covered. Lay each spoon onto wax paper or a greased sheet of foil.

3 Chocolate Spoons

I had a lot of extra chocolate, so once the spoons were laid out, I spooned more chocolate into the scoop part of each spoon. Let the chocolate cool and harden, about one hour.

Ta da! The finished gift boxes:

4 Chocolate Spoons

5 Chocolate Spoons

Latkes!

Latkes

It’s a messy project, but worth it! Because the story of Hanukkah is a commemoration of the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight, the traditional food is fried in oil. We used plain vegetable oil because it can withstand higher heat than olive oil, which would be the more authentic choice.

I watched Seth make these and he just eyeballs the proportions. Basically, you need a huge mixing bowl, into which you’ll put shredded potatoes, minced onions, eggs, salt, and some flour (many recipes call for matzo meal, but I don’t know why, since it’s not a “Sabbath-like” holiday, where you should refrain from certain practices, but I’m far from an expert!)

Seth mixed up the latke “dough” with his bare (clean!) hands and then shaped them into rounds about 4 or 5 inches wide. He fried them for a few minutes on each side. Add applesauce and sour cream and call it a meal!

I didn’t realize I had so few pictures. We must have eaten them too fast. We’ll just have to make more before this holiday is over.

The New York Times has a wonderful page about Hanukkah recipes. Check it out here.

Homemade Applesauce for Hanukkah Latkes

ApplesTomorrow Hanukkah begins at sundown. Did you make your homemade applesauce yet? That’s weird, you didn’t? This is our first holiday as a married couple so we’re going all out, at least in terms of the most delicious snack ever: potato latkes. I’ll admit that it’s probably my love of all things potato-based that has me so excited about this project and by extension, holiday. What will we be doing? Shredding potatoes and deep frying them in oil? Onions and salt will be involved? I’m in.

Because latkes are served with applesauce and sour cream (or crème fraîche if you live in France), I decided to make my own applesauce, since it’s something I’ve enjoyed doing for years anyway. I bought a bargain-sized one-kilo bag of apples and used about half of them. Many of them were bruised and not so pretty-looking, so applesauce (or compote de pommes) was an appropriate use for them. There’s really nothing to it!

What you need:
1 pound of apples (I used gala because they are sweet and soft)
2 tablespoons sugar (I used brown sugar)
cinnamon (optional – we kept it out this time)
1 big pot

What to do:
Cut the apples into quarters, seed and peel them. Eat the peels throughout the process for less waste and more vitamins! Cut apples into 1-inch cubes and put them in the big pot. Add just a tad of water, until it is up to about 1/2 inch in the pot. Add sugar. Turn on the heat to high.

Apple Sauce 1

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until the apples are soft.

Apple Sauce 2

Using a hand-held mixer (much easier than a blender), purée the apple mixture.
Apple Sauce 3

Put the applesauce into clean glass jars (it will still be hot!), cover, and leave at room temperature until cool. Keep refrigerated. See? Nothing to it.

I’ll post tomorrow about the latkes!

Hamburger Night à la Française

Hamburger Close-Up

So when you have hamburger night in France….

The cheese is Swiss, from Gruyère.
The mustard is French, Maille brand.
The beef comes from Charolais cows.
The avocados are Spanish.
The bacon is not bacon at all but strips of pork breast (“poitrine”).
The “bun” is cut from a loaf of whole grain bread.
The beer is Belgian (or Dutch).

hamburger Toppings

But is a break from tradition such a bad thing?

Better Than Bunnies: Handmade Gifts

Christmas Story Bunny

Remember the bunny costume Ralphie’s aunt so lovingly imposed on him? This is the image many people picture when thinking about handmade gifts. So now that I’ve pledged to have a 100% handmade holiday season, how can I avoid being that relative?

I’ve spent a bit of this chilly Sunday gleaning my favorite crafty sites for some tutorials and simple gift ideas for everyone on my list. Here goes…

For Crafty Hipsters
Star-Shaped Books Tutorial on Craftster ~a little paper book you make yourself that folds out into a star; a great stocking stuffer for anyone, really, just pick graphics and papers that correspond to the receiver. I will be making dozens of these with my leftover papers.
Coffee and Hand Warmer ~think tea cozy for your coffee mug. Keeps coffee hot and hands from being scalded.
Funky Travel Bag ~tutorial for a travel bag that could also be used for groceries or as a gym bag.
Thin Credit Card Wallets ~who uses checkbooks anymore? cut out the bulk and try out this little sewing project.
Crafty Tool Belt ~for fixing, gardening, and general DIY

Wearables
Heather Bailey’s Headbands ~a sweet and stylish accessory for girls aged 4-104
Felted Gifts out of Old Sweaters ~make stuffed things or wearables out of sweaters you no longer wear by felting them in the washing machine
Mittens ~these are still one of my quickest “wow” projects, but still require a few hours to make one pair.

Edibles
Rock Candy ~make the candy to give away, or create a do-it-yourself kit for a kid to make it on their own.
Candied Citrus Peels ~winter is actually citrus season, so enjoy your Florida oranges and save the peels!
Peppermint Marshmallows ~Heather Bailey tried it using this recipe.
Recipes in a Jar ~They look cool if you layer the ingredients and make a cute little label to go along. If you live abroad, give a recipe for a cultural favorite, like pancake mix, chocolate chip cookies, or muffins.

For the Wee Ones
Homemade Playdough ~the smell that I will forever associate with my childhood. It’s simple and children will have fun helping. The cooked version will last the longest.
Basic Bib ~get festive with fabrics to make it fun.
“Taggie” Blanket ~little ribbons for little fingers to play with.

And Others
Felt Bird Ornament ~birds are popping up allover in fabric and graphic arts. This pattern has the look of a Scandinavian Christmas. Leave out the embroidery and opt for a simple embellishment (one bead eye?) and they should be quick.
Beaded Snowflake Ornaments ~see my (as mlle_rachelmarie) 2003 version on page 3 of this link.
Circuit Board Art ~for the geeks on your list (or if you are the geek in the family), make shapes or get creative to make lampshades and coasters.
Knit Dishclothes ~this reminds one of housework (such a downer), but you can make them fun by knitting a shape into the cloth. Just chart it out on graph paper and switch from knit to purl (or purl to knit) to create a bump for every square. Your pattern can range from the sweet to the obscene, but it’s always subtle.
Washclothes ~Similar to the dishclothes, but for exfoliating properties, my favorite pattern is just using a simple basket weave stitch and two strands of cotton yarn.
Snowman Pencils ~they look cooler than they sound, I promise.
DIY Digital Photo Frame ~a project only the ultimate crafter should take on. Have an extra old laptop laying around?

Mushroom Risotto (with broccoli)

I had never made my own risotto before Tuesday night. It’s not complicated, but because you have to be stirring for about 25 minutes, it can be long and tiring. It helps to have another chef in the kitchen so you can take turns!

As for recipes, I did what I usually do, which is search the web and find a couple that sound appetizing and can be made with the ingredients I have. Then I combined a few to make my own version. This method works with varying degrees of success, but this time, I am quite pleased and wouldn’t change a thing.

In fact, it was such a success that the two of us ate almost all of the risotto before I could even take a photo, so I made a fancy title in a fancy font:

Mushroom & Broccoli Risotto

What you need:

4 T butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pint mushrooms, cubed
3/4 cup dry white wine
1.5 cups rice
4 1/2 cups broth

Optional add-ins: 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, chopped broccoli

Bodum Frying Pan

I used the 12″ Bodum nonstick frying pan (pictured above), which we bought during the July sales here. An everyday pan like this is key, since it has tall enough sides to hold and make the entire dish.

What to do:

Melt the butter in a large pan. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the mushrooms and cook until they’ve released most of their water and start to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and when the mixture is sizzling, add all the rice. Stir continuously.

After about 5 minutes, begin to add the broth, stirring the entire time. Add about a cup at a time and after each addition, make sure the rice has absorbed the broth before adding more. The whole process of adding and absorbing takes about 25 minutes. When there was still a bit of a watery texture after the last broth addition, we added little bits of broccoli. If you’d like to use cheese, add that just before serving.