Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fold Yourself a Forest

While these little trees won’t scent your home with pine, they can certainly satisfy your early holiday decorating itch.  This project is easy enough for a child to do and would be a great family activity.
The more people folding the faster your forest grows!

Don’t feel constrained by this project’s directions.  Once you’ve made a couple of trees then experiment.  Try a variety of papers or go crazy with glitter.  Maybe cut out your paper circles with decorative scissors or try varying the size and number of your paper circles.

This paper craft project can be found in a great new book:  Martha Stewarts’s Handmade Holiday Crafts or on Martha’s website. 

Materials needed: scissors or circle cutter, paper, bone folder, 12 inch skewers or lollipop sticks, wooden spools, beads that fit onto the skewers, and hot-glue gun or fast drying glue.

Note: The instructions found in the book and the website are missing a step.

 Make 6, 5, 4, 3, and 2 inch-diameter paper circles.  For smaller trees eliminate either the 6 or 2-inch circle.

Fold each circle in half 4 times.  It is helpful to use a bone folder to make your folds defined.  
     You have just created 8 sections.  Think of the creases as your mountains.


     Now you want to create the valley creases.  Turn your circle over and make another 4 folds in the middle of each of the 8 sections.  Make sure your mountain creases line up as your create you valley creases.  Now you should have 16 sections.

      Snip off the center tip of each circle, creating a very small hole for your skewer.

           Glue a small bead at the top of a skewer and then place the smallest circle next to the bead.  With a hot glue gun or fast drying glue dab a small amount of glue to the underside of the circle, where paper and skewer meet.  Make sure the skewer is centered in the middle of the circle and carefully let the glue dry.

     Working one at a time from smallest circle to largest, slide the remaining circles onto the skewer and secure each layer with glue.   Insert bottom of skewer into a spool and mark the desired height on the skewer.  Remove and cut skewer, then return skewer to spool and secure with glue.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


During pomegranate season, (which is happening right now for those of you who don’t realize it), I eat one of these lovely fruits every 2-3 days.  I adore pomegranates, but I’m picky. The flavor must be the perfect balance of sweet and tart and never ever unripe!  And no, I do not spit out the seeds. That would be an ordeal! My favorite way to enjoy eating pomegranates is just with a spoon and a full bowl of the seeds (or rather the “arils”).

I encourage you to join me in a “pomegranate day” by having pomegranate at each of your meals.  To support you in this noble endeavor I’ve included recipes for a breakfast dish, a salad, and a dessert that all use pomegranate.

Maybe you think they’re just too much trouble, but I have a fast technique for getting those arils out of the pulpy interior.  First, you should not be wearing any white or light colored clothing.  Take it from me no matter how careful you think you can be, you will end up with a permanent stain.  Think of those seeds as miniature grenades with the pins already removed.  The seeds have a devilish nature and will use any opportunity to explode.  So please take that pristine white shirt off before you even pick up the knife.

While this method gets those seeds out fast, it is somewhat messy. Also you do damage the arils closest to the skin.  So if you are picky like I am about having unblemished arils then the slower method of picking the arils out by hand is the way to go.

Jewel Salad
I’ve been making this dish for many years.  It looks beautiful, tastes great, and makes a wonderful holiday salad.  I’ve adapted it from a recipe that appeared in Martha Stewart Living and can still be found on her website.  Martha’s version makes a HUGE amount of salad.  Although it claims to serve 8, it really is more like 12-14.  My version serves 6-8 and I also just use one of the two dressings she provides.
1-2 pomegranates, seeded (about 1 ½ cups)
2 Fuyu persimmon, finely chopped or thinly sliced
½ cup dry apricots, finely chopped
4-5 Satsuma mandarin oranges, peeled and sectioned
1 Granny Smith apple, finely chopped
1 small bulb fennel, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 small head radicchio, halved and finely sliced
½ cup walnuts, chopped
½ cup blue cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
 Place all chopped fruit in one bowl and the fennel, celery and radicchio in another bowl.  Dress each bowl separately.  In a large serving bowl carefully layer the ingredients from both bowls, sprinkling the nuts and cheese as you build up the salad.
Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Jelly
This recipe is very easy and versatile, plus it looks pretty and has a lovely creamy taste.  It is adapted from the cookbook Olives & Oranges by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox.  If you’d like to lighten this up try substituting milk or buttermilk for some of the cream.  Likewise the amount of sugar can be reduced.  Taste and decide what appeals to you.  This dessert serves from 4 to 6 depending on the ramekins or glasses you use.  I find this dish can be rich and intense, so I try to use small cups to serve the dessert in.  You could even use shot glasses.
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 cup milk 1% or 2%
½ cup Greek yogurt or sour cream (can be full fat, or not)
½ cup sugar
zest of ½ of lemon
1 ¼ teaspoons unflavored gelatin

Place ¼ cup cream (or the dairy of your choice) in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the cream.  Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes.  In a saucepan combine remaining 1¾ cup cream, sugar and lemon zest. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves.  Pour in the gelatin mixture and stir until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture is smooth.  Do not let boil.  Let cool briefly. Place the yogurt or sour cream in a bowl and slowly whisk the heated cream into the yogurt (or sour cream).  Carefully pour into glass ramekins or small glasses and refrigerate until set.

Pomegranate Jelly
4 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon sugar

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water and let sit for 10 minutes.  Next in a saucepan combine juice, sugar and gelatin mixture and stir over low heat, stirring until the gelatin dissolves.  Do not let boil.  Remove from the heat and let cool briefly.  Pour the jelly over the set panna cottas and return to the refrigerator for at least 4-5 hours.
To make the panna cottas in a mold just reverse the process and start with the jelly.  Make sure the jelly is well set, otherwise you won’t get the distinct layers.  Also lightly oil the mold. When ready to serve slide a knife around the panna cotta to help release it from the mold.

Oats with Orange, Pomegranate, Pepitas, and Maple Syrup
This recipe is from Martha Stewart Living January 2011.  You can add and subtract the toppings of your choice, but the pomegranate gives the dish a nice crunch of flavor.  Serves 4.
4 ½ cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup steel-cut oats, cooked
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
3 tablespoons pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
1 orange skin removed and segmented
¼ cup maple syrup or honey
½ cup milk

Bring water and salt to boil.  Whisk in grains.  Return to boil.  Reduce heat to low.  Simmer, stirring often, for 35 to 40 minutes.  Top with milk, pomegranate seeds, orange, pepitas, and maple syrup or honey.  Serve immediately.

Some more pomegranate recipes to consider:
Sweet Cousous with Fresh Pomegranates from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen
Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad with Arugula and Hazelnuts from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
Eggplant - Pomegranate Relish from The Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook
Pomegranate Gelato from Gourmet Today
Garlic Cole Slaw With Pomegranate Seeds from My Kitchen in Spain
Persian-Style Chicken With Walnut, Onion, and Pomegranate Sauce from The Gourmet Cookbook

Now go out and get yourselves some pomegranates!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Good Things Come in Small Boxes!

Paper boxes tied up with string...these are one of my favorite things

There is a great craft book called "Papercrafting in No Time" by Clare Youngs. It has 50 projects that are very doable for the novice, but classy and modern enough to appeal to the experienced crafters as well.  Typically the projects are simple to make but look tasteful and whimsical when finished.  Projects include templates, patterns, and lots of great photos. Instructions are generally clear and easy to follow.

I've already got 3 projects lined up, and the first is this fun, versatile, easy gift box. They are addictive to make!  You can use all kinds of papers- wrapping paper, scrapbooking paper, wallpaper, even old calendars.

Begin by copying and enlarging the template from the book to the desired size onto cardstock.  If you have the ability to laminate the template I would recommend this to preserve the edges of your pattern.  If the template is a bit slippery, add a few small strips of masking tape to the bottom of the template to keep it from sliding around as you trace it on to the paper.

Trace the template including holes and slots.  Cut out the box template.  With an x-acto knife carefully cut out the slots.  Tip- the slots are much easier to use if you make them just a tad longer than indicated on the template.

Next make the holes with a hole punch and score on the lines indicated on the template to create the box shape.  If you don't own a bone folder or a scoring tool, try using a chop stick or cap from a ball point pen.

 Carefully fold up the tabs along the scored lines.

Take one of the tabs with the slot and pull it over one of the tabs with the punched holes. Next take the second tab with the punched holes and slide it up through the slot next to the first tab with the punched holes.  Take the last tab and carefully pull it over the two tabs with the punched holes.

Lastly thread a ribbon through the holes and tie into a bow.  Add a gift tag if desired.

Fun idea-
For a Christmas Advent activity make a number of these boxes for the days leading up to the holiday.  Attach a number to each box and fill with a little treat, or poem, or toy. Hang them on the Christmas tree and have your kids find the box for that day.

P.S. Look around the web for other fun boxes to make by typing "box templates" into the google search box.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Let Them Eat Streusel!

There are those days when you just don’t have the time or inclination to do more than put your hair in a ponytail, slide on yesterday’s jeans and skip the makeup.  Or if you are a guy, you forgo the shave and put on that decade old tee shirt and baseball hat.  This is you in your most basic form.  A plain muffin is like this, good, but basic.

Then there are the days we spend a little extra time on ourselves.  Maybe be we style our hair, swipe on some eye shadow, or put on the dreaded pantyhose.   We spiff ourselves up.   So when a muffin (or tea cake, or quick bread) needs to be spiffed up its the streusel or crumb topping that is called for!  Heck, if I could just sprinkle myself with streusel to take me from plain to stylish I would.  Much more preferable to the dreaded pantyhose.

Streusel toppings are a fun way to tinker with a basic recipe.  Recipes can be found in many cookbooks.  Here are a few to look at:

Streusel recipe page 395 
Crumb Topping recipe page 394
Cherry Streusel Coffee Cake page 55
Classic Crumb Cake page 56
Blueberry-Lemon Curd Streusel Muffins page 102
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
All-Spice Crumb Muffins page 16
Apple Streusel Muffin Tops
Blueberry Buckle with Lemon Scented Streusel page 132

Pumpkin muffin with Streusel
In my favorite version, gathered from various recipes, I use cereal flakes to provide a little more texture and crunch.  I use a whole grain one, but I bet any type will work.  Also I use almond meal instead of chopped nuts.  This topping can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge and when needed just add the melted butter to finish the recipe.

1 ½ cup cereal flakes
½ cup almond meal (I use Trader Joe’s)
½ cup shredded coconut (I use unsweetened)
½ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
melted butter

Pulse the cereal flakes in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Next add the rest of the ingredients except for the melted butter and lightly pulse until everything is well mixed.  

For a dozen muffins I will take a cup of the streusel mix and add 3 tablespoons of the melted butter.  Mix well until the butter has saturated the dry ingredients. Sprinkle your muffins (or cake or bread) with the crumb mixture.  

Lightly press the streusel into the batter to help it adhere while baking.  Another way to use streusel is to put it between layers of batter, to create a filling.