Rainbow Heart Wreath

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So, half the reason I’m having people for dinner on Friday is to spend the night with friends and all that mushy crap.  The other half is so that I can go all out on decorations so that I have bloggable activities for you.  So I hope you’re happy.

I’m actually not super happy with how this turned out, so I might try to do it again soon.  But it was super easy, so it’s not like it’s going to be hard.

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I happened to be in possession of a few pads of pastel rainbow coloured scrapbook paper (a thin cardstock thickness).  And I am not a scrapbooker.  That is a little intense even for me.  I also have this fancy schmancy new paper cutter that I got for Christmas, because neither the Pie nor my parents will trust me with a guillotine paper cutter (which, I must point out, is ridiculous, because I used to use one for a living and never cut myself, but anyway …).  I also have a stapler.  Nothing fancy about it, save perhaps that it is pink.  I’d tell you that it belongs to the Pie but that would be a falsehood.  It’s mine.  My pink stapler.  SURPRISE.

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*Ahem* Anyway.  Each sheet of paper was 8″ square so that made my life easy.

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I sliced it into 1″ wide strips — see how the sheet is double-sided with two different colours?  I like that.

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Anyway, fold each strip in half, like so.

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Then bring the ends in towards each other.  You can just fasten the ends and the heart looks a little bit more pretty, but it’s not as structurally strong.

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So I brought the ends all the way into the fold, gave it a pinch …

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… and stapled it all together.

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And did that a bunch of times.

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While Grenadier ignored me.

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Or pretended to ignore me.

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I did it with a few more pieces of paper, 8 hearts per colour.  Gren subtly got closer and closer.

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Until, like the secret cat he actually is, he was lying on my hearts.  Well, he’s always got my heart in any case.

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By the time I’d finished with all the colours, he’d gotten bored and gone away again.

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So now I had these hearts, 48 in total.

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Can I make a wreath with 48 hearts?  Yes, but it looks terrible. And is gigantic.

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So I started putting them together in chains, like this.  I used plain clear adhesive tape for this.

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Very festive.  I didn’t pay attention to which inside-outside hearts were where and I like the non-pattern-ness of it.  Is that a word?

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This is how I wanted it to look originally, and this is all taped together in a lovely fashion.

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However as soon as I lifted it, it immediately collapsed under its own weight. Quel dommage!

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So I did a more compact version that mirrored the shape of the wee paper hearts themselves.  And taped the crap out of it so it would stay in the shape I wanted it to.

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I think there’s a little bit too much tape showing pretty much everywhere and the wreath bears a strong resemblance to a pretzel but it’s a start.

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***EDIT: So I tried again, with the same number of hearts, but this time I stapled them so they looked more conventional.  Then I used a hole punch to make a way to string them onto fishing twine.

Heart Garland 1

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And now I have a garland.  I kind of like it.

Heart Garland 3

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Forgive the pictures. The dining room is the darkest room in the house.

Sweet Heart Place Markers

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On Friday we’re having a few people over for dinner.  It’s not that we really celebrate Valentine’s Day, but it’s a good excuse to have a super fancy dinner party — where all the attendees are wearing sweat pants.  And really I think that Valentine’s Day is overhyped as a generically heterosexual romantic thing when really, why can’t we use it as a time to celebrate our love for friends and family?

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Anyway, this is the idea I came up with for place markers for each diner’s plate: SALT DOUGH!  You remember salt dough, right?  I guarantee you made it at least once as a child, or made it for a child as an adult.  If not, then NOW IS YOUR CHANCE!

It’s easy peasy.  Preheat your oven to 250°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or not, your choice).  Start with a bowl, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup fine salt, and 1/2 cup water.  I like to add in a pair of gloves because this stuff is majorly drying to the skin, and you’re gonna have to knead it.  Plus I intend to colour it with gel paste colouring, which has a tendency to stain.

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Mix the flour and salt together, then add the water in bit by bit.  Sometimes you won’t need it all.  Today, given that Ottawa is SO FREAKING dry right now (neither Gren nor the Pie will come near me because I’m a walking static shock machine), I used it all.

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Use your hands to get everything properly mixed together.

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The dough will be very dry.  If it sticks to your hands then you need more flour.

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Here’s where I added the gel paste.  You can leave that out and paint the ornaments later, or leave them as is for a nice soft white finish.

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I got bored kneading in the gel paste and ended up liking this marbled texture so I rolled with it.

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And rolled it out with a rolling pin.  Not too thick, or the dough will puff up in the oven and take too long to dry, and not too thin, or it will just break.  But it’s not rocket science, so don’t worry too much about it. You can always re-roll scraps, too. It’s not like you’re worried about it being tough — you don’t eat this stuff.

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Then I used a cookie cutter to slice out the shapes I wanted.  Decorate them however you want with other dough or whatever. I was originally going to imprint my guests names into the soft dough, but I forgot about the whole gluten-equals-springy-dough thing and it didn’t work out.  Oh well.

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I used a skewer to poke a hole so they could be hung them up if the guests wanted to.

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In the end I had fifteen 3″ hearts, with only a little scrap of dough left.

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Lay the ornaments flat on the parchment and bake for an hour, flipping them halfway through.  If your oven burns hot, put the rack on the upper portion of the oven and/or turn down the heat if possible.

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Remove the “cooked” ornaments to a rack to cool completely.

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I used a silver Sharpie to write my guest names on each ornament and strung them with coloured thread.

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The blank hearts I hung from the light fixture in the middle of the dining room, to give a bit of height to the table decoration.

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Long-Distance Greeting

The Pie and I don’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day, but I thought I would make up a little card for Cait and send it home to Ottawa.

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The base is cardboard with construction paper overlaid on top and I used construction paper to make the “hinges” of the card.

The “clothing” for the figure on top is a textured origami.  The limbs are pipe cleaner and the heart is made of felt.  Heartfelt.  Get it?

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I originally just had glue holding everything down, but you see I had to resort to tape. Alas.

Under the “clothing” is a hole to accommodate this chocolate bar (which I bought from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company here in St. John’s, specifically because their bars are small enough to fit in an envelope), which is wrapped in origami.

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I used a circle punch to make confetti out of my paper scraps and stuffed a bunch of it inside the card so it will all fall out when she opens it.

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♥ Happy Valentine’s Day! ♥

Lovers’ Sweet Potato and Mushroom Ravioli

Lovers' Ravioli

We don’t tend to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  We’re totally broke, for one thing, and for another, we’d rather not have to spend a day doing obligatory and clichéed things to tell each other how we feel.  We do that on a daily basis anyway.

States of Gren

I am of course talking about our love for Gren.  Duh.  He’s so smooshy.  In the words of Cait, “I want to smoosh him.  With smooshes.”  We definitely smoosh him regularly.

States of Gren

In any case, because it’s expected of us (and because nobody ever wants to do anything with us on Valentine’s Day), we usually have a nice meal together and talk about how stupid this Hallmark holiday is.

If you are of the same bent, or if you love to do smooshy romantic things for your true love, why not make up some fresh pasta and go from there?

I figured I would give ravioli a try.  Why the heck not?

The ingredients for each component of this are so simple. The only one I really measured for was the pasta dough, because I’m not yet at the eyeballing stage for that.

For the ravioli filling:

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You will need sweet potatoes, dried shiitake mushrooms (you can use fresh ones but I like the chewy texture of the dried ones), and roasted garlic.

Plop a handful or two dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of warm water and leave them for 30-60 minutes, or until all tender.  I find that placing a small plate on top ensures they all get evenly exposed to water.

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While those are percolating, peel and cube a large sweet potato.  This one weighed in at 1 3/4lb.  Plop that in a pot full of water and boil until tender.

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Drain the sweet potatoes and mash ’em.

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Take your hydrated mushrooms out of the water, cut off the woody stems, and chop them finely.

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I found that after chopping, a quick sojourn in the food processor got them to the size I wanted them.

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Save the water from your mushrooms — it makes a great vegetable stock.

Lovers' Ravioli

I made this roasted garlic last week from three heads of garlic.  If you click on the link above you can see how I did it.  I’m going to use all three heads, because the Pie and I have been together for almost eight years, so it’s not going to matter how much garlic we consume.  Do exercise some caution if you’re new to the relationship and you’re still trying to impress … Though I suppose if you both consume the same amount of garlic it really doesn’t matter, does it?

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Anyway, I plopped that in the food processor as well (with a drop of olive oil) and came out with a lovely aromatic paste.

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In a bowl, combine your mashed sweet potato, the minced mushrooms, and the garlic paste and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Stir that around and set it aside.

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For the ravioli pasta:

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For this you need durum semolina flour, salt, and eggs.  Semolina is perfect for making pasta because it has an extremely high gluten content, which means that your pasta will stay cohesive even when immersed in boiling water.  That is kind of important.

So take 3 eggs and whisk them together with a pinch of salt.  I like to add in a few drops of olive oil, as well, for smoothness.

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Pour 2 cups durum semolina flour on a clean work surface, make a well in the centre, and pour in the eggs.

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Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  I wish I’d thought of it sooner so I could have made a better heart.

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Using a scraper and/or a fork, gradually incorporate the eggs into the flour until you have a coherent ball.

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I used some regular all-purpose flour at the end, just to reduce the tackiness of the dough a bit.  You will want to knead it for about 10 minutes, just to get all the gluten working for you.

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Wrap up your final ball and let it rest for about 20 minutes.

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Cut your dough into manageable sections.  I cut mine into four.  Flatten out your first section enough so it fits into your pasta machine.  If you are rolling it out by hand, have fun with that.

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I prefer my pasta maker.

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I cut my strips in half, so that I could fold the second half over the top half like a mirror image.  Though it does help if your top half is slightly bigger than your bottom half.

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Put little dollops of your filling on your bottom sheet with enough space in between so you can cut them easily.

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Carefully line up the top half and lay it over the filling.

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Working from the inside out, gently stretch and press the top dough over the filling to form little pockets.

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When each pocket is sealed, use a knife or a ravioli cutter to separate them.

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For this first round, I went all the way up to the #7 setting on my pasta maker, which made the pasta sheets very thin — a little too thin.  You can see how they have torn and I had to patch them.

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The next round, I only went up to the #5 setting, which was much more manageable, and I prepared the ravioli on waxed paper, which made peeling them up much easier. I probably could have gone as high as #6, but I’m still new to this.

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I separated each round of pasta with waxed paper to prevent sticking.

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I had some leftover filling, which I froze.  I would gladly make this again.

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Now, set a pot of water to boil with a pinch of salt and a few drops of olive oil, and get started on your sauce.

For the sauce:

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You will need butter, sage, lemon juice, and parmesan cheese.

Slice 10-12 sage leaves finely to ensure all their lovely aromatic juices get released.

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To save time and my sanity (I really hate grating cheese), I cubed up about 1/3 cup of my extra-hard parmesan and gave it a go in the food processor.  Totally worth it.

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So for your mis en place you have your sage, chopped, your cheese, grated, about 1/2 cup lemon juice, and about 4-5 tablespoons butter.

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By now, your pasta water should be boiling, so carefully tip all your ravioli in and cook them for about 8 minutes.

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While that is going on, in a large, wide, deep frying pan on medium-high heat, melt your butter.

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Continue to cook the butter, scraping the bottom with a spatula to prevent burning, until it starts to foam up and the clear liquid turns a lovely light caramel brown colour.  Add in your sage leaves and remove the butter from the heat.

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See the brownness?

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Pour in your lemon juice and give that a stir. Oh man does that ever smell good. Like all the best parts of everything.

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Drain your pasta and plop them in the frying pan with the butter.  Pour in your cheese and toss the lot to coat.

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Serve it up, with plenty of leftovers.

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Though  none for Gren.  Much to his disappointment.

Lovers' Ravioli

Chocolate Meringues

Happy Birthday Minda!

I love meringues, and they’re something I actually mastered as a young child, though how I had the patience for them I will never know.  The sweet, crispy, chewy lightness of the meringue cookies made it worth the wait.

Recently I’ve been looking at alternative forms of meringue, and other methods of making them.  I made these amazing chocolate mocha meringues last year around Valentine’s Day but of course I can’t remember where I got the recipe from.  Do you remember Kª?  Perhaps it was an issue of Every Day Food.  Who knows …

In an effort to recreate these magic chocolate tasties (and because I had 8 egg whites left over from my foray into vanilla ice cream [post to follow next Wednesday, stay tuned]), I flipped through The Joy of Cooking (2006) for a new take on the old classic.  These ones are from page 741, and I doubled the batch (of course).

Now I’ve mentioned this before, but make sure that your egg whites are at room temperature before you start whipping them.  If they are cold you can always warm them up by putting them in a bowl of warm water.

Preheat your oven to 225°F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a mixer, plop in 1 egg whites, 1 teaspoons vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Whisk ’em up at high speed, and add, gradually, 2/3 cup granulated sugar

When you get to the stiff peak stage, you’re done.

Sift together 2/3 cup icing sugar with 3 tablespoons cocoa powder and fold it into the beaten mixture as well.

If it’s still a little swirly, that’s okay.

Spoon the mixture onto the parchment and shape it however you wish.

I had enough leftover for a large meringue to make into a sort of pavlova.

Bake it for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (seriously).  You can see if it’s done if you can remove a meringue from the parchment without it breaking.

Turn off your oven and prop the door open a bit with a wooden spoon.  Leave it like that for an hour or so (again with the waiting).  The trick with good crisp meringue is to let it cool slowly. 

Store the meringues in an airtight container or wrap them tightly for up to three days.

For my little pavlova, I cut up some fruit for the top: raspberries, strawberries, and grapes.

Then I melted some chocolate in a double boiler.

Plopped the berries on the meringue.

Drizzled the chocolate on top.  It’s pretty much a pavlova, minus the whipped cream.