22 December 2008

Bento Box pillow

I pulled this together this afternoon, for a friend at work. She's a big fan of colour, in any combination, the crazier the better, so I used a little bit of everything.

This is the first time I've done the bento box pattern - I always like how it looks, though I do think it looks better when you do work with fabrics that have very different values. (These ones don't, in general. Obviously the red is much darker than the white it's paired with, but the gold/stripped combo doesn't have much variation, and, well, neither do the others, really.) I didn't plan the bento very well, though, and I think it shows - I'd have liked to have the pink across from the red and the yellows across from one another, but somehow I couldn't seem to make it work and look good when I was doing the layout for the pillow. Not that I'm unhappy with it, just that I wish I'd been more... thoughtful about it. I also wish I'd paid attention to directionality when I cut out the striped fabric :D

Anyway, originally the plan was for two pillows, but it turned out that I didn't have enough pillow stuffing and so I had to turn it into one woefully under-stuffed pillow. If it were properly stuffed, you'd be able to see the border - a bright green with yellow, red, and pink dots (to help tie all the colours together, a bit).

The pillow is going to my friend with a note telling her that when I buy stuffing again, she's going to have to give it back for a couple days so I can rip it back open and stuff it properly. Or maybe even rip it apart and turn it into two pillows as it was meant to be.

21 December 2008

Christmas postcards, pt. 2

Here is another of my favourites of this group of postcards. I don't know why I like this one so much - it's very simple - but I really like it quite a lot.

This card started out all green (with the one brown bit in the centre) but then I thought it could use some red to perk it up. And then I realized I'd accidentally left a small hole, so I appliquéd the star to hide it.

Sometimes it seems that the more simple things are, the better I like them. This one is quite plain, but I am pretty happy with the overall look.

Another favourite of mine. I think this is maybe a Courthouse Steps style block. (But I could be wrong.) I accidentally sewed one of the greens on in reverse. Oops. (That's the second time I've done that with that fabric.)

And another which I find strangely delightful. I think it's the bright splash of orange.

Christmas postcards

This year for Christmas I decided to participate in a recipe exchange online, where 10 of us got together and sent each other a postcard with a recipe printed on the back. Because I'm stupidly ambitious sometimes, I decided to do mine on fabric postcards, rather than just regular postcards of my city or whatever.

This first card is one of my favourites of the group. As I mentioned in my last entry, I like playing with the colours of Christmas, without being too explicitly Christmas, so this (and the other cards) works out well for me. A kind of wonky log cabin.

These trees are a bit ubiquitous with me this particular Christmas season...

And another! (The last one, thankfully.)

Just a kind of crazy quilt type card, with random placement of all the colours and prints.

This is my least favourite of the cards, as it was kind of a failed concept. The idea was a Christmas present with a big bow across the top, but most people seem to be confused by it and think it's some sort of elf costume, but then wonder why you can't see the rest of the elf.

Anyway, it originally was going to be part of a pillow with three gift boxes in a row, which I think would have worked a little better, if there were a series rather than just one, but I was paper piecing it and got tired of dealing with the paper bits and turned it into a card instead.

Christmas pillows

Pillows seem always to be a small, nice thing I can hand-make for people at Christmas time. They're both time and cost-effective and they're cute, too. This'll be the second year I've given away a small mountain of pillows to family at Christmas. And I think it'll have to be one of the last times. Nobody needs 50 different holiday pillows. (Or Do They? Hmm...)

This first one, in blues, is actually a kit I picked up at one of my least favourite fabric stores in Calgary. I always seemed to have bad experiences when I shopped there - mainly being ignored and/or eyed up as if I was going to smear dirty fingers all over everything, usually both simultaneously - but it's the only quilt store that's very accessible to me by transit. And this most recent visit when I picked up the kit was a welcome change - I was greeted, had an offer of help, and after refusing help was left alone until I was ready to go.

Another problem I often have with this particular quilt store is that I find their fabric selection is often a little bit... stodgy. I mean, it's just quite obvious that whoever does the buying has a very different eye than I do. On the other hand, the next nearest store is another 30-40 minutes away by transit. So I deal.

In any case, the blue pillow is going to be for my grandma, as I thought she might like a more muted palette than I'd typically prefer. And if she wishes, she can leave the pillow on the couch year round, since there's nothing too excessively Christmas about it, more just wintery.

I picked out the fabric myself for these two pillows, so they're a bit more my style. I like the green/red combination like this, where the colours aren't quite the typical green and red of Christmas decorations. And again, the prints aren't quite Christmas, while still being Christmasy. I haven't quite decided who is getting these pillows. My Christmas is very much up in the air - we don't really know exactly who is and isn't coming from the family, so depending who makes the trip out, that'll be who they go home with, I guess.

20 December 2008

No really, I can't bake.

I've said to a dozen different people a dozen different times that I don't bake because I suck at it. I don't tend to offer proof, except that having worked in a bakery for a year, I still never managed to learn how to tell when anything I made was done.

Here is some visual proof.

See. The plan. The plan was to make mini cupcakes, then to fill them with peppermint cream, then to top them with cream cheese icing. Originally I was going to use my vegan chocolate cake recipe, and I did try it a week or so ago, but I didn't quite think they were chocolatey enough and the texture was a little bit different than I was looking for. So I bought a box mix because it was cheaper than buying nice chocolate and making my own.

When I made the vegan cupcakes, I filled the sample cups about 2/3 full, and they only rose a bit less than 1/4 inch above the top of the cups. Just perfect, really. So, even though I'd realized the two recipes wouldn't react quite the same, I still filled the cups to the same level. Clearly the difference in the amount of rise you get from a vinegar/baking soda cake is rather different than one with eggs and whatever else is in a box mix.

17 December 2008

Baked Eggs with Mushrooms and Tomato-Pesto Toasts

I made some delicious baked eggs for lunch when I got home from shopping in the arctic winds today. (It's not really that cold, but the wind is making it feel that way.)

This is today's and tomorrow's lunch (except for the toasts, which are today's only, of course). It's kind of half-way between a frittata recipe I frequently use and one for baked eggs with morel mushrooms that I've got in this little French cookbook I bought recently. The toasts are also a variation on a recipe from the book, called... what is it called? How to Forget your Ex with the stab of your fork.

The reason I bought the book, which is in translation, is not that I've got someone to forget, but that all the recipes are for single serving dishes and I have a deep love of anyone who will provide me with recipes I don't have to adjust. (Though I did adjust this recipe up for making tomorrow's lunch.)

Here's a recipe, for two:

200 g baby potatoes, cut in quarters
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
100 g button mushrooms, cut in quarters
seasoning salt or an herb blend
1 garlic clove, crushed or diced or whatever
1-2 tsp canola/olive oil
3 eggs
2 tsp sour cream (or crème fraiche, though I've never used that - can't find it here)

Preheat oven to 425F/ 315C.

Boil the potatoes with bay leaves and some salt until just cooked through. Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in a little oil (I didn't measure, but it was less than 1 tbsp) with garlic and seasoned with salt and pepper or a seasoning salt/spice mix.

Butter or spray a small oven-proof dish. When potatoes and mushrooms are cooked, pour into the buttered dish. Crack three eggs over top, taking care not to break the yolks. Spoon sour cream onto the mixture, between the egg yolks. Cover dish with tin foil.

Bake until set the way you like them. The original recipe, which was for a single egg with mushrooms but no potatoes - I added potatoes to make it more substantial for lunch at work - suggested 5 minutes but my whites weren't even started to set by that point. I removed the tin-foil at 12 minutes, at which point the whites were pretty much set, though the yolks were still very runny. (If you tap on them, they're very jiggly.) Eight to ten minutes later, they looked as they do in the photo - the edges of the yolk were starting to lighten up a little bit and when tapped they still had some movement, but not nearly so much as earlier.

I'd have probably used more mushrooms than I did and fewer potatoes, except that the mushrooms I bought yesterday froze on the way home from work and so I had to use a couple of slightly aged (but not gone bad) ones I'd bought on Saturday.

For the toasts, to serve 1:

3 thin slices of baguette or a bun of some sort
a little olive oil, to brush over
3 thin wedges of tomato
1-1.5 tsp pesto
1 tsp Parmesan cheese, grated

Lightly brush olive oil over slices of bread. Toast in the still-hot oven after removing the eggs. Top with a slice of tomato, a dab of pesto (I didn't measure, but it was likely less than a 1/2 tsp per toast), and a sprinkle of cheese. Grate over pepper/salt if you wish.

14 December 2008

Cavatappi with Chicken and Peas

I thought for certain that I'd have posted this before, but I don't see it in my quick check back through my archives. I really do need to get things tagged again so that I'll be able to find things more easily.

Anyway, this is my recreation of a dish I used to get ages ago at a restaurant in Saskatoon. I think they used linguine, but I didn't have any noodle-type pasta and I probably prefer cavatappi anyway. At any rate, this is just pasta with chicken, peas, and alfredo sauce cut with a little pesto. Delicious.

Here's the lazy recipe, to serve 1-2. I seem to eat less pasta at a time than most recipe recommend, so maybe 1 is more accurate. Anyway, I got two servings out of this.

4 oz (110 g) dried pasta, whatever shape you like best
1 chicken breast (~ 6-8 oz/220 g)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/4-1/2 cup alfredo sauce
1 tsp (heaping) pesto sauce
Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions, dropping in peas for the last 2 minutes of the cooking time. Meanwhile, cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper, then cook through in a frying pan with a little oil.

Drain pasta and peas when cooked through and return to the pot. Stir in cooked chicken. Scoop 3-4 large tablespoons (don't bother measuring accurately, you'll be able to see if it's enough based on how saucy you like your pasta) of Alfredo into the frying pan, then stir in a teaspoon or two of pesto. Heat until bubbling, then pour over pasta mixture and stir to coat. Add more if it seems too dry. Grate over a little parmesan cheese if you wish.

This combines two of my favourite sauces - Alfredo and Pesto. Yum. Also good... Alfredo with some tomato sauce stirred into it, though maybe more equal amounts of each. And not on peas and chicken.

09 December 2008

Beef Madras, Aloo Gobi, and Strangely Pale Yellow Rice

I had a craving for some spicy, warm Indian food. But not from my ex-favourite Indian take-away which the Calgary Health Region's website reveals to have had (on more than one occasion) a rodent problem.

So I dug out my trusty recipe for Aloo Gobi (modified slightly from the extras on the Bend it Like Beckham dvd) and yellow rice. I also bought a jar of Madras curry paste, because it's got a great flavour that makes a really fantastic meatloaf and followed the recipe on the side of the jar (sort of).

Too bad it all tasted wrong.

I think my spices are all dead, maybe. It's like they smell like what they're supposed to smell like, but they don't seem really to taste like what they're supposed to taste like. My yellow rice? Didn't turn yellow. My curry didn't have any of the spiciness it usually has. I don't know.

I didn't have any cilantro, which did change the taste of course, but it seems more off than just missing cilantro. Maybe it'll taste better tomorrow once it's had a chance to sit and blend flavours even more?

The beef Madras tasted good, though I didn't read the instructions before hand, so I didn't know it's meant to be a sort of slow-cooked thing (I assume with cubed beef) and I ended up cooking it in a flash at the end once my Aloo Gobi was cooked through (and just needed to sit for a bit to thicken up a little). It actually did taste pretty good, but I cut back on the curry paste by quite a bit (I used 1 tbsp rather than 2, because I was concerned it would be too over-powering) and I did notice that it didn't have quite the zing I was expecting. The spices tasted particularly good on the tomatoes though, which were just cooked through - I used fresh chopped grape tomatoes rather than canned tomatoes.

I often wonder when I cook things like this if I'm sort of... breaking food rules, though that's not quite what I mean. But like.. I don't know anything about the food tradition behind real Indian cooking, I just know that I like this taste and that one, so I've put them all together, but maybe eating Beef Madras with Aloo Gobi would be like eating.... Poutine with Jambalaya. They maybe both come out of a French tradition, but one is Quebecois and the other is Cajun. And I don't think any classical French chef would claim either one. I know very little about either cuisine, but I do know enough to know that they have different flavour profiles and different cooking methods and I know that they don't really blend together. Indian food? I don't know anything about it at all.

Anyway, I guess that ultimately it doesn't matter, since I am cooking for myself and nobody else is going to come along and tell me that I've got Northern Indian that and Southern Indian this and that other dish is just made up and isn't actually Indian at all. (Or whatever.)

07 December 2008

Tagging Entries

I've spent the last several days having a lot of fights back and forth in my head about how I should tag my entries here. It's not that it matters especially, but it does irritate me when I want to find some thing or other I'd posted but none of my tags are useful enough to get me in the right direction.

I'm not very good at tagging things, I invariably wind up with useless designations (like "rice" with more than 50 entries, but no way of telling what is just plain rice or what is a rice pilaf or a rice salad) but then in an attempt to clarify, I wind up with even more useless designations that are so specific they'll nearly never be used (I've never made a rice salad that I can think of, and if I did, it'd probably be a one-time thing).

I think I've decided to break it down more or less like a rather comprehensive cookbook. (Appetizers, Soups, Salads, Mains, etc.) But I really do get hung up what things to mark and what to ignore. I don't think it's worthwhile to mark every side salad, since mostly they're unexceptional, or every time I eat plain rice. So I suppose I should ignore those, but then do I also ignore unexceptional sides like... mashed potatoes? Do I only mark potatoes if I've done something interesting, like colcannon? or if they're plated in an interesting way? (Like... roast potatoes are boring, but what if they're stacked up slices instead of heaped cubes?)

It seems like the only things I've really settled on are marking meals from particular chefs (chef: Gordon Ramsay, for example) and designating various grains and pulses.

I don't know. The one thing I can say for certain: if it is listed as vegetarian, that means only that it doesn't contain meat. It may contain eggs or milk products. If it's listed as vegan, it will be strictly no-animal by-products.

Anyone have suggestions for tagging? No? Okay then.

Cavatappi with Sausage and Lima Beans

This is getting to be a fairly old picture, but it's another of those sort of unattractive things that tasted good and I always seem to have the most problems updating when I've made something quite ugly. It sort of visually reminds me of pasta salads at church potlucks when I was a kid, minus all the sour cream and/or mayonnaise.

This is actually a pasta take on a Gordon Ramsay recipe from his book Fast Food. I had been wanting to make soup and there was a recipe for a chorizo, red onion, and lima bean soup. I didn't have any chorizo (and have never had it - I've never seen it available anywhere here, though I've also never gone looking in speciality stores), but I did have some turkey sausage (with feta cheese and spinach) in the freezer, which needed either to be eaten or thrown out. (Getting freezer burned.) And I had lima beans! And red onion!

Alas. I had less than 1/3 the amount of lima beans needed to make even half the recipe and I didn't want to try it out when I was so obviously short on one of the main ingredients. So I thought... why not take out the soup and put in some pasta? So this is the same basic thing, just with significantly smaller amounts of vegetables and meat, and a bit of pasta to plump it up to meal size. I kept all the same seasonings and added only Parmesan cheese.

It was a nice meal. But what it really made me want was soup instead. Some other day, I suppose, when I've got lima beans again.

01 December 2008

Miso Glazed Fish with Steamed Vegetables and Rice

This was a really, really delicious dinner, but it's been a sort of rough day in some ways and I couldn't really enjoy it enough to really want to eat it. I saved quite a bit of it for lunch tomorrow, though, which is good because I didn't really have plans for what to take with me to work.

A little while back I bought a tub of white miso (shiromiso) for a soup I was making and now I'm on a mission to use as much of it as possible, because I hate it when I buy an ingredient for one thing and then never use it again. So I've been looking for different recipes and have quite a stockpile of potentials bookmarked in a folder.

I wanted to try a recipe with fish, so I went through the potentials (there are quite a lot of recipes for fish with miso) and decided on a Miso glazed fish, which I found here at Heart and Hearth, since it asked for a white fish and I thought probably white miso would work well with that. And also, I'm extremely poor until my next pay cheque, and white fish is cheap. (Less than $2 for twice what you see in the photo. Which was 1/3 of my available funds until that cheque. So.)

I'm really glad that I tried it because it was really lovely. I don't think I could hope to describe the taste - a little soy sauce, a little sweet, a little salty, with a sort of slightly sticky glaze and wonderful with crunchy bits of fresh green onion. I think I'd like to cook this for my parents, someday, because I think they'd both like it.

The rice is just plain basmati with green onion stirred through. (Had to get some colour into it for the photo. White rice is a terrible terrible thing to photograph. I've learned coloured plates are best when photographing white rice.) And then the steamed vegetables are a lazy thing - a single serving package that comes frozen and you just microwave it. But it's a mixture of broccoli, edamame, and green beans. And it was very nice with a little salt and butter stirred through.