Handy Items: Circle Cutter

Circle Cutter 8

This right here is a circle cutter, and it’s a pretty ingenious device, which is deceptively simple to use. This one in particular is made by Martha Stewart, and we all know she has her sh*t together when it comes to handy tools.

Circle Cutter 1

So you have this ring, which holds a clear disc inside with a million holes in a spiral. The centre disc spins inside the ring.

Circle Cutter 2

And you have this tiny witchy yet super sharp wee blade on a small handle, which also spins.

Circle Cutter 3

And you have your thing that you want to cut. In my case this is Con-Tact paper made to look like stainless steel. I originally tried to do this with my 2″ circle punch, but things went badly.

Circle Cutter 4

On a reliable and steady cutting surface, place your material. Top with the ring, and figure out how big you want the diameter of your circle to be. Insert the tiny evil blade into the requisite hole in the disc that matches that measurement.

Circle Cutter 5

Then carefully draw your hand around in a circle. The blade will rotate as you go, and the disc will spin. And then all of a sudden you have a perfect circle.

Circle Cutter 6

I’m making quite a few of these. It’s not as fast a process as it would have been with a circle punch but I like the flexibility to make my circles any size I want. I’ll keep you posted as to what I plan to do with them.

Circle Cutter 7

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For the Neon lovers out there.

Neon Umbrella 26

I have a friend who loves neon. It’s like she grew up in the eighties and nineties or something (to clarify, she’s a year younger than I am. I also grew up in the eighties and nineties). So when I found this on MakeKind I knew who was getting one for Christmas.

Neon Umbrella 15

So I began my search for a white umbrella, because she also loves all things white. But in the City that Fun Forgot (Ottawa’s nickname), you simply can’t find a plain white umbrella. And to order one online was to pay more in shipping than the umbrella cost to purchase. No sane person does that. So then I thought, why not a clear umbrella, with silver trim (because she also likes silver)? That I could find. And they’re much safer for trundling around in because you can see where you’re going.

Neon Umbrella 2

Then I grabbed some neon paint. I used the Martha Stewart multi-surface paint in four neon colours, because it is weather resistant after it cures (it’s the same stuff that we used on the wooden spoons and it’s held up to multiple washings). And then I set up my work surface. I threw a drop cloth across my dining table and over the chairs, creating a little lip I hoped would keep flying paint contained.

Neon Umbrella 3

Then I grabbed my brushes and got started. Use a nice stiff paint brush to get good flickage.

Neon Umbrella 4

I’d originally planned to do the little splots that you can see in the MakeKind version of the umbrella, but on a clear surface with the background invading they weren’t as obvious, so I went a bit more bold and started throwing streaks at the umbrella for more visual impact.

Neon Umbrella 8

You have to be very careful when you do this. I managed to get only one blob of paint on the wall. The dropcloth, however, was liberally speckled. You might also want to wear an apron, as there’s a bit of back-splash.

Neon Umbrella 6

I made sure to rotate the umbrella so all the streaks weren’t going in the same direction. This was quite a lot of fun.

Neon Umbrella 13

I let the umbrella dry, opened, for 24 hours to ensure the paint wouldn’t transfer somewhere I didn’t want it to go.

Neon Umbrella 18

Now it’s in my secret hiding place, waiting for Christmas!

Neon Umbrella 17

Rainbow-Dipped Wooden Spoons

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 27

This is a great and quick gift for people who are just starting out in a new home.  When I saw it over at A Pretty Cool Life I knew I had to do it.  And maybe even jazz up my own wooden spoons while I was at it, though at present I only own two. You can never have too many spoons (especially when you’re entertaining and all is chaos), and these bright and shiny ones are a great accent for any kitchen.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 24

So you need some spoons, wooden ones. The Pie and I picked these up at Winners for a reasonable price. We did two sets, six spoons each. And you need some craft paint. We had six spoons, so we picked up six colours. We went with Martha Stewart Crafts™ Multi-Surface Satin Acrylic Paint.  It had a nice finish, was easy to apply, and is guaranteed to be non-toxic and food safe.  And if you let it cure for 21 days, then you can pop these babies in the dishwasher with no worries.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 1

I gave the spoons a quick sand with some fine-grade sandpaper to get some of the splinters and rough edges off.  Then I measured to see where I wanted the paint to go.  These self-healing cutting mats also make great ruler-like work surfaces.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 2

Then I used masking tape along the line I measured and pressed it down securely to make sure the paint wouldn’t bleed under.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 3

These are my own wooden spoons here.  I originally wanted to do a set of stripes forming a rainbow on each handle, with them being the reverse of each other, so I blocked off 1″ increments for my stripes, figuring I could do a few colours at a time.  Conveniently, my masking tape is also 1″ thick.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 4

I wedged the spoons in plastic cups with some rocks in the bottom for stability.  This way they can dry properly without touching anything else.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 5

Then I set up my palette in an old pie pan.  Re-use, re-use, re-use!

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 6

Then I painted.  It was easy.  Leave an hour between coats to make sure it dries properly.  I ended up doing three coats on the spoons I was giving away, though I only did one coat on my own spoons.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 7

When I took the tape off my own spoons in order to mask off the already painted sections, I decided I liked the stripes just as they were.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 8

And if you put the spoons together it forms a rainbow!

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 10

And of course the other spoons are raring to go, just waiting for their requisite 21 days of curing.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 13

If you have a glass utensil holder, you can put them handle-side-down.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 19

Or if not, have them handle-side-up.

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 21

Either way, they’re a cheery addition to my kitchen.  Can I keep them?

Rainbow Wooden Spoons 23

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Here is yet another Martha Stewart soup and I think I like this the best of the three I’ve made recently.  I made all three over one weekend, so I got a chance to taste them all at the same time.  In this soup, the vegetables are roasted beforehand to bring out the flavour, and man oh man is it some flavour!

Preheat your oven to 425°F and position your oven racks so one is at the very top and one is at the very bottom.

On the bottom tray you’re going to have your eggplant and your chickpeas.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

On the top tray will be your tomatoes, carrots, and garlic.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Peel about 12 cloves garlic and peel and chop up about 1/2lb carrots.  This equaled 2 large carrots, for me.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Then you need to halve and core about 3lbs plum (Roma) tomatoes.  The recipe says that this is about 12 tomatoes, but I ended up with 18 to make that weight.  I found the tomato huller tool worked great for this.  It took out the top stem bit, and then after I halved them it was great at scooping out the innards.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Toss the tomatoes with the garlic and tomatoes and 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Garnish liberally with fresh ground pepper and pinches of sea salt.  Spread them in a single layer (if you can) on a rimmed baking sheet with the cut sides of the tomatoes facing downwards.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Chop up 1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2lb) into 3/4″ pieces.  Of course our grocery store never has the same kind of eggplant two days in a row, so I got 4 baby eggplants instead.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Rinse and drain 1 can of chickpeas.  Toss those in with the eggplant, together with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons curry powder.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Spread that out on a rimmed baking sheet as well.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Roast your vegetables, tomatoes on the top rack, eggplant on the bottom, for 45 minutes.  Toss your vegetables halfway through.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Now your tomato skins will be all lovely and wrinkly.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

You can just pick them off with a set of tongs.  Be careful not to burn yourself.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Once your tomatoes are peeled, dump the contents of the tomato tray (carrots, garlic, skinless tomatoes and juices) into a large saucepan.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Purée the tomato mixture and then add 3-4 cups water.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Stir in the eggplant mixture and bring the whole thing to a simmer.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Serve garnished with fresh cilantro and crusty bread.  You can also freeze this soup for later on down the road.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Butternut Bisque

Butternut Bisque

I’m not the biggest soup fan (I prefer to drink my hot liquids), but I’m starting to acquire a taste for them.  I’m especially fond of blended soups (because then it’s like a savoury pudding and I’m less likely to burn my tongue on the hot broth).  This one comes from Martha Stewart and is a good match for a nice late-summer lunch or a good accompaniment to a fall comfort meal.  It’s quick and easy, which I like in a soup.  You can also freeze it and enjoy it at any time.

First, do your chopping.  In this case, chop up 1 medium onion, 2 cloves garlic, and 1 large butternut squash.  Peel the squash, cut it open and remove the seeds, and then hack it into smallish cubes.

Butternut Bisque

Then, get your spices ready to go.  You’ll need 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper.  Also, not shown, is a pinch or two of coarse sea salt.  Feel free to add more or less, according to your own taste.  It’s only soup, after all.

Butternut Bisque

Melt about 3 tablespoons butter into the bottom of a large saucepan.  Add in the onion, garlic, and the spices and cook until the onion is tender and translucent, about 7 minutes.

Butternut Bisque

Dump in the squash cubes, as well as about 15oz chicken broth and 1 cup half-and-half (you could use plain milk if you wanted to be healthier, but do you really want to do that?), and then about 3 cups water.  Bring that whole thing to a boil and reduce it to a simmer for about 20 minutes.  Your squash should be squishy at this point.  You should be able to squish your squash with the back of a spoon.

Butternut Bisque

Remove the pot from the heat and use your immersion blender to squish — er, purée — your squash and onions and all that stuff.

Butternut Bisque

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cayenne, if desired.

Butternut Bisque

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

Gluten-Free Cake Batter

Everybody needs a basic cake batter recipe to work from, even those who have a low tolerance for gluten.  Fussellette was coming for Easter and I wanted to serve a cake for dessert.  So I needed to come up with a cake that she could enjoy along with the rest of our guests.

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

This recipe is adapted from Martha Stewart’s Easy Cake Batter.  I replaced the flour in the recipe with a gluten-free mix I came up with myself, with a little bit of help from Ellen’s Kitchen.  If you are curious as to the right proportions when combining gluten-free flours, check out her suggestions — they are very useful.

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

First we want to bring all our liquid ingredients to room temperature: 1 cup butter, 4 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks, and 1 1/2 cups buttermilk (or soured milk). If you want to warm up your ingredients a little faster, try placing them in a warm water bath.

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

In a bowl, whisk together 2 cups white rice flour, 2/3 cup almond meal (I find that the coarseness of the almond meal gives the cake crumb a springy, solid texture, with no fear of it falling if handled too roughly), 1/3 cup tapioca starch/flour, and1 tablespoon baking powder.  So the final result of this particular combination tastes like a sweet, more tender version of cornbread — it has a finer texture but that’s the best analogy I can come up with.

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together your butter with 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar, until it’s light and fluffy and creamy.  Don’t rush this process.  Let your mixer go on high for about 6 minutes, and you will see the difference between butter and sugar that are just well-combined versus butter and sugar that are well and truly creamed together. This is the just-combined stuff.

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

This is the truly creamed stuff.  It makes all the difference in a cake, especially one where you need all the help you can get to keep the structure light and fluffy.

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

Mix in your eggs, one at a time, until they are well-combined.  Again, you add the eggs a bit at a time so that the mixer paddle will have a chance to properly emulsify all of it.

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

Add in at this point 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

Flip the mixer to its lowest setting and mix in about a third of your flour mixture.  Pour in half the buttermilk and let that get mixed in as well.  Then another third of your flour, mix that in, and the rest of the buttermilk.  When that’s mixed in, add the last of the flour and mix until just combined.  You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl. This picture is blurry because I like to cook in motion.

Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Batter

Now you have a basic batter with which you can do pretty much anything.  You can turn it into a layer cake, or mix it with other flavours like chocolate or fruit.  Or you can make it into cupcakes, like I did here (the frosting is a package of cream cheese mixed with a cup of icing sugar and some coconut).

Gluten-Free Cake Batter

This cake here I wrapped up and froze for a future event.

Gluten-Free Cake Batter

For Easter I poured the batter into two pans and then layered the cake with whipped cream mixed with raspberries.  DIVINE.

Lining Up Yer Linens

Lining Up Yer Linens

Martha Stewart.  Love her or hate her (or, like me, oscillate frequently between the two emotions), but you have to admit that the woman (or one of her various minions) knows how to organize a closet.

We don’t have a lot of linens in our linen closet, but if I leave the Pie to his own devices for even an hour I will find the whole thing in complete disarray.  Folding stuff and stacking it in neat piles is not something in his skill set (which is fine, because he’s really good at other things, like frying eggs over-easy, which is not in MY skill set).

Lining Up Yer Linens

Martha suggests keeping your various sheet sets folded and tucked into one of their own pillowcases.  This way they stay folded if the pile falls over, and you don’t end up looking for lost pillow cases at inopportune times.  So simple.

Lining Up Yer Linens