Fat Quarter Napkins

Happy Birthday Rusty!

[In case you ever marvelled at my magic efficiency, please note that I started this particular project on Labour Day Weekend and didn’t finish it until the 12th of December.  If that makes you feel better.]

I love fabric.  I am the worst sew-er in the world, but I seem to adopted a love of pretty cloth from my mother.  It’s both a blessing and a curse.  To assuage my inability to live without fabric and to compensate for the utter lack of storage space I have for it, I buy fat quarters.  These are squares of quilting fabric (usually cotton).

Fat Quarter Napkins

So a metric fat quarter is 50cm square, or 20″ x 20″.  But an American fat quarter (and alas, most of these are), is based on another archaic system and so the pieces are either 18″ x 22″ or 18″ x 21″.  And it’s all approximate anyway.  I’m not really sure of the logic there.  Something to do with yards and standard widths and blah blah blah.

Fat Quarter Napkins

You can also get colour-coordinated fat quarters (usually in packages of four or five).  The nice thing about these is they all go together, so you can hand someone a set of napkins, but they’re all different enough that people can tell theirs apart when they want to re-use them.

Fat Quarter Napkins

A handy home-made napkin ring will also help to differentiate.  The Pie made all of these himself by bending spoons with a set of pliers.  We then sprayed them with a metallic copper paint.

Spray-Painting Indoors

You can also use fabric remnants as well.  You can pick them up for a dollar or two in a fabric store, or use the scraps from another project of yours.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Speaking of fabric remnants, I picked this one up at Jo-Ann last year and didn’t unwrap it until now.  I chose it because turquoise and teal are my favourite colours, and I thought the design on this was pretty.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then I unwrapped it.  WOW.  Talk about a hidden gem!  This will NOT be going into a napkin.  I gotta think on what to do with this one.  Suggestions are welcome.  Just barely not enough to make a skirt, if that gives you an idea of the size.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Anyway, back to the napkins.  First thing you need to do is wash and dry your fabric.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Don’t be alarmed — they will fray.  Oh mercy did these ones ever fray.

Fat Quarter Napkins

And then this one has a slash in it.  I will have to come up with an artful patch of some kind.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then you have to iron them.  I hate ironing.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then comes the actual napkin-making.  It involves hemming and sewing in straight lines and nice edges and stuff and MORE ironing.  None of which I’m particularly good at.  But Maia from Glass Beach has a fantastic and clear tutorial on hemming napkins here that you should check out.  It’s brilliant in its simplicity.  I will try to re-create her instructions as best as I can, but hers are better.

First I used a rotary cutter and a ruler to trim all the squares so that I had right angles.  They don’t necessarily all need to be the same size as their partners (unless you’re making napkins for the Queen or something), but right angles make things a lot easier to deal with.

Fat Quarter Napkins

I highly recommend using a rotary cutter and mat for this job.  It’s very hard to get straight lines with scissors alone, and it’s easier on your hands.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Gren helped by sitting on the fabric as I was trying to cut it and making off with the scraps once I cut them loose.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Save the scraps to stuff a toy later on.  Or do something else with them.  I made mine into a placemat, which you will see on Friday.

Then I gave myself a 1″ seam allowance and traced that with a fabric marker.  Actually I couldn’t get to the fabric store and so used a Crayola washable marker.  It washes out just as well, if not better, than a fabric marker.  Guaranteed.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then you cut 1/2″ tips off all the corners.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Fold the edge of the fabric so the cut line matches up with that line you drew and iron it to create a flat edge.

Fat Quarter Napkins

To get a nice mitred corner, unfold one of those new flaps at the corner.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Fold the other flap over itself, along that marked line.  This seals in your raw edge and prevents fraying.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Now take the corner bit and fold it down so the edge of the folded part lines up with the drawn line on the side with the unfolded flap.  If you have big fingers or are in general not the most dexterous, you could use an awl or a seam ripper to hold things in place for you, like I did in this photo.

Fat Quarter Napkins

Then you can fold down the unfolded part again, and then fold it over itself again to seal in the raw edge. You can either iron these new edges flat, or simply pin them.  Either way, I’d add a pin or two in the corners just to hold everything in place.

Fat Quarter Napkins

And look at that — it looks like you know what you’re doing!

Fat Quarter Napkins

Now all you have to do is sew that down, making sure to backstitch at the beginning and end to keep your thread from unraveling.  Use an awl or seam ripper to hold the corners in place while you’re sewing them down, too.

Fat Quarter Napkins

And what a pretty napkin you’ve come up with. They look nice with these copper-sprayed spoon napkin rings, don’t they?

Fat Quarter Napkins

Tie them up in a nice little bundle and give them all away!

Fat Quarter Napkins

Walnut Cheesecake Squares

These were another creation for a research participant, and I like them because they’re not too sweet.  And because the base is the same as the topping the whole thing is incredibly easy.  This recipe is from Esther Brody’s 250 Best Brownies, Bars & Squares.

Preheat your oven to 350°F.  Butter a 9×13″ pan and line it with parchment paper — then butter the parchment paper as well.

Mix together in a bowl 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2/3 cup packed brown sugar, and 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

You’re looking for crumbs here, so if you have walnut pieces, pop them in the food processor (slightly more than the cup measure as it will settle) for a spell.

Using a pastry blender:

Or two knives:

Cut in 2/3 cup cold cubed butter until the mixture is entirely coarse crumbs.

This may take a while, so be patient.  Too large pieces of butter will result in holes in your base.

Pour half the mixture into your prepared pan and press it to the bottom.  Set the other half aside.  

Bake the mixture in the pan for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool slightly.

In another bowl, beat 1lb (500g) softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until smooth.

Beat in 2 eggs and 1/4 cup milk, then add in 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over that nice warm base.

Sprinkle the reserved base stuff evenly over the top.

Bake the whole shebang for 20-25 minutes more, or until everything is just set, and then remove the pan to a rack and let it cool completely.

Use the parchment paper to lift the cooled squares out of the pan and cut them into squares.

If you have any left, store them covered in your refrigerator.

Fix This Recipe! (Gooey Caramel Pecan Squares)

When I’m arriving at an interview for my research, I like to bring the participant a little something that I made as a thanks for their time.  It’s kind of a rule for me.  I made the following recipe for a family I interviewed a couple of weekends ago and I was disappointed at how it turned out — I’d appreciate your views on what you think went wrong and how we could make this a super awesome dessert.  In light of this being Groundhog Day, I would say this recipe saw its shadow and needs a do-over.

I pulled this out of Esther Brody’s The 250 Best Brownies Bars & Squares, which has also yielded the no-bake peanut butter crunchy squares and the extreme comfort brownies.  So I figured this would be another excellent concoction.  I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of adding salt, which I never do anyway.  And I doubled the recipe, of course.  Something, however, went horribly, horribly wrong …

Preheat your oven to 425°F and line an 8″ square cake pan with foil, then spray the foil with cooking spray or grease with butter.  I used spray.

For the Base:

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

Using your handy-dandy pastry blender (or two knives), cut 6 tablespoons cold butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over the mixture, mixing lightly after each addition.  The dough should be just moist enough to hold together at this point.

I found I had to add more water in order to get the dough to stick together, probably about double the amount.

Press the dough evenly into your prepared pan.

Bake it in your oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, then place on a rack to cool completely.  When I pulled mine out of the oven it was bubbling with butter and not golden at all.  I think I would perhaps use less butter.  Suggestions?

For the Filling:

In a saucepan over high heat, melt together 3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup whipping cream, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar.  Bring the goo to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla until the bubbling stops (bet you didn’t know it would bubble when you added vanilla, did you?)

Pour the filling over the cooled base (I let the filling cool a bit first, as it was rather molten).

Sprinkle the top with 3/4 cup toasted pecans and set aside to cool.

For the Topping:

In a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate and stir until smooth.  Let cool very slightly and then drizzle over the pecans.  Chill until the chocolate is set.

Using the foil as a handle, transfer your chilled squares to a cutting board and cut into squares.  My problem here?  The darned caramel didn’t set.  It got thicker, sure, but still remained steadfastly liquid.  What did I do wrong?

The bottom was pretty rubbery, too, which made eating this sweet confection impossible without a jackhammer, but it is definitely worth trying again, because while it didn’t work out the way I had anticipated, at least it wasn’t floor pizza.