Make, Jane, make!: 2011


Small Share

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hard-Sided Fabric Boxes: A Gift For My Midwives

What to get your two lovely midwives who have delivered two out of your three children and seen you through the thick and thin of pregnancy for the better part of three years? Nothing I could buy with money seemed good enough. I knew I had to invest some of myself into the gifts to make them somewhat comparable to the knowledge and expertise they've blessed us with.

Recently, my midwives redecorated their offices and got some nice new beds. I noticed that the headboards had open shelving and thought to myself that I could make some storage boxes/buckets to help corral in the stethoscopes, alcohol wipes and other medical odds and ends that inhabited that area.

I used this Fabric Storage Box tutorial from make it and love it as the model and just changed the dimensions to what I thought would fit into the shallow headboard shelves. I liked the fact that these fabric boxes had stiff sides (rug-hooking plastic sheets from Michaels - brilliant!) without the use of lots of fleece/batting and stabilizer.

I got this really nice Michael Miller fabric from Fabricland on sale for about $5/yard. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it at the time, but when I checked through my stash for something to make these boxes with, I knew immediately that this gorgeous, earthy, floral fabric was going to be just perfect.

I especially liked the little windows that Ashley at make it and love it added to these boxes. They allowed for some personalization of the boxes. I also thought about using some windows to showcase an appliquéd message, similar to my monogrammed fabric bucket project - but these seemed much more practical since my midwives could use the pockets to hold a storage label later.

For my plastic windows, I cut up some vinyl packaging that I had lying around the house. You know, the kind that comes with bedding, kids toys, etc. I knew I was saving all that stuff for something! It always seemed like such a waste to throw away all those nice plastic pockets... and the associated snaps and zippers that they come with!

To finish off the gift, I filled the basket with some home-baked goodies, a picture of them holding my newborn kiddies and a personal "thank you" note. I also wanted to knit some fingerless mittens (since they are always using their Blackberries) but I didn't have time to get out and buy the necessary knitting needles. I do have the needles now... so it'll be a project to finish and give to them when I see them again for child #4! (No, I'm not pregnant again and negotiations for child #4 are still ongoing with hubby, but a girl can hope can't she? :)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An At-Home Date Night Meal

The boys were with their grandparents last weekend and we got some time to sit down to this meal...

A cheese and meat platter with some of our favourite port (Taylor Fladgate 10 Year Old Tawny - we like the more aged stuff as well, but the price point is good on this one).

Here's a breakdown of the goods:

We bought everything at Longo's and here are some delicious combinations we found/were suggested by the little info cards at the store:

  • Coeur de lion with pomegranate seeds on a cornbread cracker
  • Tremonti Crontonese Red Pepper with warmed honey
  • Goat Gouda on a vegetable thin
  • Parma prosciutto wrapped around some cantaloupe and pecorino/asiago
  • Dry Sausage with anything!

The whole platter probably only cost us about $50 plus $35 for the bottle of port and we had lots of leftover of everything. It was a nice meal to have sitting in front of the telly watching "The Sing-Off" Christmas edition while the baby slept away in the Moby Wrap. A really easy and tasty way to have date night at home.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Teriyaki-glazed Brussels Sprouts

We received some amazingly fresh brussels sprouts in CSA box which came still attached to the stalk! They've been sitting in a zip top baggie in my crisper drawer since the end of October waiting for their day in the sun.

Look how vibrant they are! The leaves on each sprout were so tightly wrapped that they didn't dry out at all while sitting in my fridge. In fact, when I cut them in half prior to cooking they were still crisp on the outside and tender on the inside.

Brussels sprouts seem to be a love/hate type vegetable. The strong sulphuric smell that these cruciferous veggies give off, I think, is what causes this divide. In Chinese cooking, cruciferous vegetables (like brussels sprouts, cabbage or broccoli) are usually paired with ginger. The bright, almost citrusy taste of freshly grated ginger loves the earthy taste and smell of these veggies. So, instead of the usual bacon and brussels sprouts,  I decided to braise my sprouts in a ginger-infused teriyaki sauce. The braising method served two purposes; to ensure that my halved and whole brussels sprouts had enough time to cook all the way through, and to allow the sauce to thicken and glaze the sprouts. If you think you don't like brussels sprouts, this may be the recipe to change your mind.

Pretty simple preparation. Mixed some soy, sake, sugar, mirin and ginger in a bowl and set aside. Gave my brussels sprouts a quick browning and then braised them in my sauce until they were tender.

These were super yummy enough that my sceptical three year old reluctantly tried one and then asked for more. He said they were yummy and crispy (presumably he was referring to the browned and caramelized areas).

We had these served alongside some tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), corn and rice. Love it when my kids love a nutritious and simple dinner!


Teriyaki-glazed Brussels Sprouts

2 cups brussels sprouts, halved if large
1-2 tablespoons sake
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tsp mirin
1-inch piece ginger, grated*

  1. Mix all ingredients, except brussels sprouts, together in a small bowl. Stir until sugar is mostly dissolved. Set aside.
  2. Briefly fry brussels sprouts in a medium saucepan with a small amount of oil over medium high heat until they begin to brown and caramelize.
  3. Add sauce and lower heat to medium. Braise until the sprouts are tender enough for your liking and the sauce has thickened and begins to coat the vegetables.

*Check out Michael Smith, Chef at Home's tip on grating frozen ginger.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Cake for my "Little Brother"

We celebrated our new baby's one month birthday this past weekend as well as my brother's birthday. My mom bought the baby's cake and I promised to make my brother's cake.

Big bonus if you can guess what the cake design was from this picture alone:

Here's a hint: my adult brother and I still adore this character that we remember fondly from our youth and teenage years.

Here's another hint: this loveable claymation character has always enjoyed a cult following in much of Asia.

I'll give you some time to think on it.

In the meantime, I'll give you the details of the cake. I used my all time favourite chocolate cake recipe by Martha, Devil's Food Cake with Chocolate Ganache. This cake is everything I love about chocolate cake - moist, fluffy, dark chocolate cake plus lots of rich and smooth frosting.

The original recipe calls for a two tier cake with half of the prepared ganache whipped into frosting and the other half drizzled over the cake as a glaze. I usually make it a three or four layer cake, forego the ganache glaze and whip all of the ganache into frosting. This makes a truly decadent and irresistibly delicious chocolate cake. However, with the new baby at home plus the two boys and the fact that I still had marshmallow fondant to make/cut/decorate, I decided to cut down on my work load and just make the suggested two layer cake.

If you've ever wanted to make a cake using fondant, I would definitely suggest using marshmallow fondant. It's much easier to make than conventional fondant and much tastier and easier to work with than store-bought fondant. Check out CakeJournal for a quick and simple tutorial on making marshmallow fondant using store-bought marshmallows. Or you can make it from scratch by using a marshmallow recipe like this one from Apartment Therapy the kitchn, and simply adding icing sugar to the marshmallow cream (instead of letting it cure and set into marshmallows) until the fondant becomes workable.

Okay, curious about what the cake design was yet?

Simple Pingu Cake :)


Unfortunately there are no pictures of the interior of the cake, since every slice was quickly devoured and the birthday boy claimed all the leftover cake for his takeaway bag. You'll have to take my (and my disappointed-that-there-was-no-leftover-cake-for-the-next-morning hubby's) word for it - it was to die for [back-patting] :)

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Summer Dress in the Winter (and What Signing a Card Means to a 3 Year Old)

I've said it before and I'll say it again - it's much easier to sew for girls. There's just so much more out there and boys really don't appreciate clothing all that much... except my eldest, who can't go by a mirror without checking himself out [eye roll].

I decided on a summer dress for our little friend with a winter birthday, because it didn't seem fair that she was always getting the corduroy/denim/wool gifts and a summer baby gets her choice of bright and cheerful fabrics.

This dress is from a great pattern by New Look (6821). It has a variety of sizes and styles all in one package, making it really versatile. Also it was on sale at Fabricland and I think I picked it up for $1 or $2.

I didn't mix and match the tops and bottoms for my project because I liked the one shown just fine. It had just the right combination of clean lines on the bodice and frilliness on the tired skirt.

The lady at Fabricland and I debated over the pastel-y Michael Miller fabric that I eventually used and a bolder, more graphic print but figured that a little girl would be more into pastel pink. Also there wasn't enough yardage left of that fabric, so there you go.

Anyway, I was really happy with how the dress came out and left my son to take it downstairs to daddy for gift-bagging and birthday card signing. However, as I was bringing the baby and toddler down the stairs, I heard my hubby exclaim to my eldest, "No! Not on the dress!"

I felt my heart sink as we discovered that my son, who has trouble writing his name with pencil and paper, managed (in the 2 minutes he had to himself) to sign his name in ballpoint pen on the dress... After some tears and consternation, an internet search revealed our saviour to be rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip.

Needless to say, my weepy and repentant son had to go to the party gift-less while I performed some emergency spot treatment on the dress... lessons were learned all around :P

Friday, November 25, 2011

Beetroot and Beet Green Ravioli

Although our farmshare deliveries have been finished for a month now, we just recently enjoyed the last of the beets. The greens on our beets were already wilting a bit and I wanted to preserve what was left of them before they went to waste... but having a new baby in the house made it difficult to embark on a huge ravioli making project. So the beets and greens were prepared first and they waited patiently in our fridge until I recently had time to roll out pasta sheets and form the raviolis.

If you've never eaten beet greens, definitely give them a try the next time you're fortunate enough to get beets with the leaves still attached. This is the beauty of participating in a CSA - when you receive produce you get the whole plant, so nothing needs to go to waste and you may get to try something new. Beet greens remind me of spinach but with a slight beet-y sweetness. I usually cut off the bulk of the stalks and use only the leaves. The stalks tend to be a little fibrous and also contain a lot of that beet-red dye, which kinda takes away from the loveliness of eating green-coloured veggies.

Ravioli filling is pretty forgiving. You can, more or less, make it any way you like since the pasta holds it altogether. My ravioli contained some beet greens sautéed with some garlic...

... And since I didn't have a whole lot of greens, I also roasted and grated the beetroot for the filling as well. This was nice since it made for a slightly sweet ravioli, similar to butternut squash ravioli.

Of course, the filling also needed ricotta and some eggs to bind it together before getting scooped onto some fresh pasta sheets.

I usually leave a little over a finger's width between the ravioli. Usually, with freshly rolled pasta sheets I just use some water to stick them together, but because I wanted to freeze most of this batch, I brushed my sheet with some beaten egg before placing the second sheet on top to make sure everything remained stuck together through the freezing and later cooking.

It's okay if you get some wrinkles and folds in your ravioli... they get wrinkly when you cook them anyway! The important thing is to seal each pocket of filling with as little extra air space as possible. The air pockets are what cause the most wrinkles and folds after you've boiled them.

I use a pizza wheel to cut my ravioli. We have a laminate countertop and I have yet to cause any damage doing this (for those of you who are wary of cutting directly on your counter, you can always form your ravioli on a cutting board).

After boiling, I fried the ravioli briefly in some brown butter for the kids.

And topped them with some shaved parmesan. Simple and tasty.

Hubby and I ate them with parmesan but sans beurre noisette. The kids were less than impressed, which I was prepared for since they are not the biggest beet fans. Hubby enjoyed them though, which was gratifying since I know that beets are not high on his list of favourite foods. My dad and I thought they were great.

I think these ravioli would also be yummy tossed with some parmesan and cream. Especially if you saved the beet stalks and boiled them in the cream a bit to infuse the cream with that super lovely beet-red colour!


Beetroot and Beet Green Ravioli Yield: about 4 dozen medium-sized ravioli

For the pasta:
2 cups flour
3 eggs

For the filling:
1-1/2 lbs beets and their greens
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ricotta
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper, to taste

For the pasta:
  1. Mound the flour on a clean work surface. Make a well in the centre.
  2. Crack the eggs into the well and beat them well with a fork.
  3. Gradually incorporate the flour into the beaten egg by stirring in the inner walls of your well. Try not to cause any breaks in your walls, since this will result in egg running all over the place. 
  4. Once most of the flour is incorporated and the egg is no longer runny, use a bench scraper or your hands to work in the rest of the flour. Your dough may seem stiff or dry. Don't worry. Cover it with a damp cloth and let it rest at room temperature for a half hour to an hour. It'll be perfect.

For the filling:
  1. While the pasta is resting, prepare the beets. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  3. Cut off and reserve beet greens.
  4. Drizzle the beet roots with oil and wrap in foil. Roast until tender, depending on the size and age of your beets this could be anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour. 
  5. While beets are roasting, trim beet greens and coarsely chop.
  6. Saute greens over medium heat with garlic, season with salt as desired.
  7. Once greens are wilted, transfer to a cutting board and give them a final mince. Let cool.
  8. Check on the beet roots and once they are done, let them cool slightly, then peel and grate into a bowl.

To assemble:
  1. Place beet greens into bowl with the grated beet root. Crumble the ricotta cheese into the bowl. Season with salt and pepper if needed. Mix and bind together with beaten egg. Set aside.
  2. Separate the pasta dough into egg-sized portions and roll out to your desired thinness. I like the second thinnest setting on my Kitchenaid attachment. Sprinkle the pasta sheets with some flour to keep them from getting too sticky. Cover them with a slightly damp towel if you get interrupted and they start drying out.
  3. Lay one pasta sheet onto your work surface. Place scant tablespoons of filling onto the pasta sheet, leaving about a half inch between ravioli. (I had a quarter cup of leftover ravioli filling which I put into the middle of an omelet).
  4. Brush the edges with water or beaten egg and place a second sheet of pasta on top. Press down all the edges to seal, making sure to squeeze out as many air bubbles as possible. Practice makes perfect :)
  5. The fun part: cut the ravioli using a knife, pizza wheel, or fluted rotary cutter (fancy schmancy!).

Now you can freeze or cook them. To cook them, throw them into boiling salted water and cook until they float to the top.

To freeze them, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, then transfer them to a zip top bag. To cook from frozen, put them into boiling salted water until they float to the top, pour in about a cupful of cold water and wait until the water comes to a boil again. (Just to ensure that they are fully defrosted and cooked through).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Scalloped Jerusalem Artichokes and Potatoes

Another first in our house - Jerusalem artichokes! I immediately asked my best girlfriend what I should do with them. She had never used them before either, but she was pretty sure that they could be used similarly to potatoes. So I did some searching on the internet and found that most recipes pretty much treated them as a potato substitute.

My Jerusalem artichokes (a.k.a. sunchokes) are a little worse for the wear here - they arrived all beautiful and off white (like ginger), but underwent a little oxidation while they waited in my fridge while I was busy having baby #3.

Since there weren't very many sunchokes in my share, I decided to mix them into scalloped potatoes. That way we would have enough to make a proper side dish, but still be able to sample the individual taste and texture of the sunchokes.

To prep, I simply peeled and cut some potatoes and sunchokes. I had a taste of the sunchoke in its raw form. It was crisp, juicy, and slightly sweet (like a water chestnut) but a bit earthier and starchier like an arrowhead (慈姑). Next time I'll definitely try them in a stir fry.

I cut enough potatoes and sunchokes to half fill an 11-cup capacity baking dish. Into this I poured a mixture of 2 cups of whole milk, grated pecorino romano, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Added some grated cheese (marble and old cheddar) over the top for good measure and popped the whole deal into a 375F oven for about an hour.

When the liquid is mostly absorbed, you'll end up with something like this...

The result was a soft cheesy, creamy concoction that had the softness of yukon gold potatoes married with the relative crispness of the Jerusalem artichokes. It was a nice departure from the usual scalloped potatoes since it gave you something to bite on. And the sunchokes imparted a freshness that contrasted really nicely with the starchiness of the potatoes.

I'll definitely look forward to my next CSA season and hope to receive these little gems again :)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Trying to like Spaghetti Squash... Gratin

I have nothing against squash. In fact, I really enjoy most other kinds of squash. But try as I might, I really just don't like spaghetti squash.

I guess I have expectations of my squash having a certain texture and taste and it kind of turns me off when I bite into those strands of squash and find them more like a raw pumpkin than a cooked squash.

That being said, we've received spaghetti squash two weeks in a row in our CSA box and it needs to be used. So for the first squash I thought I'd try it as a gratin.

Preparing spaghetti squash is the same as roasting any other squash - cut, remove seeds and roast until tender.

The magic part of this squash is that the flesh magically cooks up into long "spaghetti"-like strands.

I scooped out my squash and added some seasonings, ricotta and parmesan.

Scooped the mixture into ramekins and topped with cheddar for the kids...

... and an egg for the adults.

Everyone enjoyed the dish but I'm still not sold on this veggie. Still have one more squash to go, so maybe I can still find a unique place for this vegetable in my cooking books?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Small Pause

A very small pause has entered my world and she was born late on a beautiful Saturday night. Please excuse me while I take a break from my trivial creations to admire one of life's greatest miracles :)

I'm sure I'll be back in no time - there's no rest for the chef in our new family of five! And I can't imagine not being tempted by the myriad of sewing projects for little girls. Can't forget about the major crafting holiday on the horizon either... I, at the very least, have to get a Christmas stocking made for the baby.

I can't believe I just thought about C-day one day after Halloween... three years of working at a Walmart and listening to the in-store radio can really mess up your internal calendar :P

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What to do with used bonito? Homemade Furikake!

I know I seem like a glutton for punishment at times - the things I make at home which could be easily bought at the store... But I have my reasons, usually.

I make my own dashi at home (check out Just Hungry for an explanation of what that is and how it is made) because I have not been able to find dashi granules that do not contain MSG. I have nothing against instant dashi, a little high in sodium maybe... but I do react to MSG (hives, eczema, etc.), so instant dashi has always been a no-no for me.

The by-product of homemade dashi is lots and lots of used bonito. It's been boiled once and twice, but I know it still contains a lot of goodness in it. Up until recently, I had no idea what to do with it and it always seemed such a waste to throw it away. Luckily, a fountain of knowledge in all things food (especially Japanese cuisine), my friend Chiho (check out her cake/pastry skills!) told me it could be dried and made into furikake.

Here is the strained bonito leftover from dashi making. I've sprinkled some sesame seeds on top, since I figure I may as well toast them at the same time.

I threw them into a 350F oven and just tossed them about and checked on them regularly until they seemed almost dry. When it looked as if they had only about 5 minutes to go, I added some nori (seaweed) to the tray and let that toast for the last few minutes as well.

When it was all dry, I crumbled everything up a bit and threw it into my food processor with some sugar and salt. Pulsed until the ingredients were finely chopped.

Then I taste tested, added a bit more salt and popped it into an old furikake bottle that I had cleaned and saved for just such an occasion. Hubby had a taste and approved. Now to start making stock from all the frozen chicken carcasses I have... before baby #3 arrives!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Covert Recipes: Chocolate Cupcakes & Leftover Pumpkin Pie Filling

I had just over a cup of leftover pumpkin pie filling the other day. There are many different ways to use up this extra filling, really depends how much you have left. If I had more filling then I would probably have mixed it with some cream cheese and swirled it into some brownies or made little chocolate cupcakes with a surprise middle. Or I could have also coated some small ramekins with butter and sprinkled the insides with cookie/graham crumbs and made a pumpkin pie "souffle". Or there's always pumpkin pancakes... anything with eggs, liquid and a little more flour can be turned into a pancake on the griddle!

Having only a small bit left, I decided that I would add it to one of my favourite covert recipes. It's basically Martha's One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes made with whole wheat flour and wheat germ instead of white flour.

The pumpkin pie filling mixed into the batter beautifully and made the cupcakes even more moist than they are usually. Actually they may have been too moist... they were delicious but very delicate to hold! So if you are stuck with a little extra filling just toss it into your favourite recipe that contains more or less the same ingredients.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

DIY Hallowe'en: Dragon Costume/Hoodie

Hallowe'en is a cold time of year where we live. So costume choices always need to take into account the need for a jacket (or other warm clothing) underneath. A while back, I bought some clearance fleece from Fabricland for a project that I have long forgotten about now - which turns out great for the boys, because the fleeces were the perfect colours for their requested "Fire-Breathing Dragon" costumes.

I posted about the wings and a link to the tutorial from I'm Feeling Crafty are here.

For the hoodie, I used a pattern that I had on hand already: Burda 9716. Though you could easily use a sweatshirt/t-shirt pattern as well. The only modification that had to be made was the hoodie back. Instead of cutting the back on the fold, I added a seam allowance to the centre back and cut it out as two pieces, so that I would have a seam down the back to which I could add some scales/back ridges.

I cut a spiky spine out of fleece be the ridges along my baby dragon's back. Sandwiched some fusible interfacing between two layers and used a zig zag stitch to seal the layers together. Fleece doesn't really fray that much, so I didn't finish the raw edges any further than that.

Don't worry about messy edges, a little trimming fixes everything.
Then I sandwiched the spine and the hoodie-back pieces together, pinned and sewed them up, right sides facing.

Just about the flip the other hoodie-back piece on top.
To reinforce the seam and to ensure that the spines stood up as straight as possible, I ironed open the seam and then stitched down both sides of the seam to tack down the seam allowance and keep the spine from falling to one side or the other.

Don't know why I'm not using my walking foot here, remembered it
and switched for the rest of the construction.

For the hood, I also sandwiched some ridges in the centre seam so that the baby dragons would have spikes on their heads too. I cut these spikes out individually since they had to fit along the curve of the hood.

Same drill, with fusible interfacing in between, and a zig zag stitch along the edges. I basted the hood spikes in place before sandwiching the hood pieces together. This was because I had to ease the spikes in around the curved seam and with the amount of pinning required for all the thick layers of fleece, I thought it was much easier to baste the spikes on instead.

Spikes basted in place and waiting to be sandwiched with the other
side of the hood.
I didn't reinforce the hood seam the same way as the spine. Partly because the hood spikes won't take as much stress as the back spikes, which will have the wings crushing them down and the boys leaning on them every time they lean back (or roll on the ground). And partly because the curved seam required quite a lot of clipping with the pinking shears to get the seam to turn out nicely, so there really wouldn't have been much to stitch down anyway :)

Other than these modifications, the hoodies were finished as per the instructions. (Note: the Burda pattern is a lined hoodie... I really didn't need such a nice finish, so mine are unlined and hemmed as I saw fit).

Here's the hoodie and the wings in their full fire-breathing glory :)

I like the costumes because the hoodie and wings are separate pieces, meaning that the kids can use them as all-purpose, dress-up clothing afterward. Also with the dragon suit being a modified fleece hoodie, it's soft, warm, comfortable, very versatile in terms of layering and the older boy can easily dress and undress himself at school. Fairly quick to put together and the boys seemed pleased with the end result.

p.s. In fact, every time someone noticed his costume, my eldest son would stop his running around and pose a bit for some admiration. lol. Vanity at its best.