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Archive for December, 2010

We spent Christmas at my parents’.

It was amazing!

There was snow. There was delicious food. There was laughter.

And there was eggnog.

Loads of it.

 

Precious, sweet eggnog, don’t you ever leave my life!

Ever!

Thank you.

Amen.

 
 

Anyway, somewhere between my third and seventeenth glass, I noticed this cute heart.

It was love at first sight.

What a gorgeous craft project, I thought.

My mom explained to me that the heart had been made by a dear friend of hers who is immensely crafty.

 
 

She’s made the heart and she’s also made this Christmas tree for my Mom.

Isn’t it just cute?
 
 

When I think about it, making ornaments like these should be really easy. What we have here are just two exactly same pieces of felt fabric that are adorned with beads and colorful patches. They are then stuffed and sewn together by hand.

Easy and lovely.
 

Now my head is full of felt projects. I plan to make felt Easter eggs and spring flowers and summer flowers and teddy bears and bugs and animals and funny creatures and fall fruit and snowmen and winter ornaments.

Yippee!

Can’t wait to start.

 

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Happy Holidays!

 

I am sending my love and warm greetings from my home to yours.

Have the most wonderful Holidays!

 

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I am making loads and loads of these delicious rolls for this year’s Christmas.

There are many poppy seed addicts in our family and I’ll try my best to satisfy them all.

 

These rolls are amazing and fun to make yeast-based pastries filled with a scrumptious poppy seed filling.

If you are still looking for a nice Holiday recipe then you should definitely give these a try.

They’ll make you happy.
 
 

Here’s what we need to prepare them.
 
 

Let’s start with the dried yeast.

Dried instant yeast is an awesome thing! Your baking will always be a success if using this kind of yeast.
 
 

1. Mix the yeast, warm milk and sugar in a bowl.
 
 

2. Place the flour, salt and butter into a large bowl.

 

3. Pour in the yeast mixture.
 

4. Using your hands or an electric mixer, combine the ingredients and then knead until you form a ball. You should knead until the dough ball is no longer sticky. It should be nicely smooth and elastic.

If you think that your dough is a little too dense to work with, add a little more milk. Start with one tablespoon of milk and if that’s not enough, add some more.
 
 

This is the kind of dough that likes a lot of attention (read: kneading). I love kneading dough – it’s the most wonderful way of relax for me.

 

5. Place the dough into a bowl, cover it with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.
 
 

In the meantime, we can prepare the poppy seed filling.
 

Of course, you can replace this filling with the canned, store-bought one.

But why would you?

Okay, I may know why… it’s simpler. But still – making your own filling will be a lot more fun!
 

6. So, for the adventurous ones – grind the poppy seeds.
 
 

7. Combine the sugar with hot water. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
 
 

8. Then stir in the ground poppy seeds, lemon zest and vanilla extract.

And that’s it – your poppy seed filling is done and ready to be used.

 

9. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
 
 

10. Turn the risen dough onto a floured surface.

 

11. Using a sharp knife, divide the dough into four (4) equal parts.

 
 

12. Take one of the four parts…
 
 

13. And roll it out into a circle.

The circle should be about 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter.
 
 

14. Cut the circle into 8 equal triangles.
 
 

15. Arrange 2 teaspoons of the filling crosswise at the wider end of the triangle.
 
 

16. And roll it up, starting at the wider end.

 

17. Pinch the edges to seal.

 

18. Let the rolls rise for another 10-15 minutes.
 
 

19. Then transfer them onto the lined baking sheet.

Work in batches here.

 

20. Beat the egg lightly. Brush each roll that you’ve transferred onto the sheet with the egg mixture.
 
 

Just like this.
 
 

21. Bake at 350 °F (175 °C) for 16 minutes.

Then repeat the process with the rest of the rolls.
 
 

Yum!
 
 

Double yum!

 

Enjoy, dear friends.

This is very, very good.

 

(This recipe makes 32 rolls and takes about 2 1/2 hours to prepare.)

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I am sending you warm greetings from my kitchen.

Because I luv ya!

And because the running oven makes it really, really warm in here.

 

The time before Christmas has a sweet and magical impact on me. I find myself in the kitchen even more often than usual.

Which actually means that instead of 14 hours a day I spend 20 hours here now.

Like yesterday, for example, I made 82 cookies and I don’t even know how that happened to me.

Strange.

 

Anyhow, these lovely Bowtie Cookies were one of those I made yesterday.

The dough has cream cheese in it. It remotely resembles puff pastry, but it is less layered and less fatty. And oh so delicious!

The dough is filled with jam. You wouldn’t believe how gorgeous that combination is.

Let me show you how I prepared them…
 
 

Here’s what we need.
 
 

1. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, butter, sugar, and salt on medium speed until light, about 2 minutes.

 
 

2. Then on low speed, gradually beat in the flour just until mixed. A crumbly mixture will form.
 
 

3. Using your hands, pat the crumbly mixture together to form a dough ball.

 

Oh, and the face – I had to. Again. It’s addictive. Sorry!
 
 

4. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

 

5. Now, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a square or rectangle about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thick.

 

6. Cut the dough into even 2.5 x 2.5 inch (6 x 6 cm) squares.
 
 

I’ve found out that my pizza cutter works best when it comes to cutting pastry.

It’s perfectly sharp.

And pink.

I’m in love with it!
 
 

7. Place 1 teaspoon of the filling in the center of each square.

Use a really thick jam. There are even jam brands out there that are meant for baking. Get one of those, preferably.

Also, when I was making the first batch of these cookies I was a little too generous and placed a little more than one teaspoon of the filling in the center. And I also spread it.

 
 

I don’t recommend that.
 
 

Although the cookies looked amazing before baking, if there’s too much jam, it has a tendency to leak while baking.

 
 

In the second batch I was less generous.

 
 

And the cookies leaked less, they almost didn’t leak at all.

 

7. Back to the instructions… pull 2 opposite corners of the square into the middle, and pinch the edges together to seal.

Pinch the edges well, don’t give them a chance to open back into the square shape while baking.
 
 

8. Place the cookies on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) apart.

 

9. Bake at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 12 minutes or until lightly golden.
 
 

10. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks.
 

11. Dust the tops with sifted confectioner’s sugar while still warm, then let cool completely.

 

Enjoy, dear friends!

 

(This recipe was loosely adapted from Epicurious.com and makes 40 cookies.)
 

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These straws are super easy to make.

And yummy!

 

Of course, they can be enjoyed as a nibble or finger food year-round, but I think they are especially welcome at Christmas and New Year’s parties.

Mmm. I can imagine them with drinks, salads or thick soups even.

Also, creating these savory treats makes a great project for you and your kids. Just try making them together. I am sure there will be loads and loads of fun.

 
 

Here’s what we need.

 
Yes, this is one of those recipe where you only need very few ingredients.

I am a huge fan of such recipes.
 
 

1. Preheat your oven to 350 °F (175 °C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

 

2. Place the butter, cream cheese, flour, and salt into a bowl.
 
 

3. Combine the ingredients by hand just until a nice ball forms.

 
 

4. Place the dough onto a well floured surface.

 

5. Using a rolling-pin, roll out the dough into about 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) thickness.

If the dough gets too sticky during this process, just use more flour to make the work easier.

 
 

6. Now cut the dough into even strips. My ones were 3/4 inch (2 cm) wide and 4 1/2 inches (11 cm) long.

 

If you want them to look super fancy, use a fluted pastry wheel cutter.

Oh, and it helps a lot if you dip the cutter in flour beforehand.

 

7. Re-roll any scraps and cut more strips.
 
 

8. Lay the strips on the lined baking sheet. Brush them with a lightly beaten egg.

This will make them beautifully golden in color.
 
 

9. Lastly, sprinkle each strip with some salt, sesame seeds and cumin.

I only had ground cumin seeds on hand when I was making these cuties. I think that the whole ones would look even better.
 
 

9. Bake at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

 

Enjoy, dear friends!

 

(This recipe makes about 30 straws and takes 45 minutes to prepare.)
 

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I want to share my most favorite Photoshop trick with you.

It’s easy and very rewarding.

The reason why I am sharing this technique with you is simple – I would like you to experience the same level of amazement that I go through each time I make this magic happen.
 
 

See the gray film over this original (“before”) picture?
 
 

This is the “after” picture.

The gray film is gone!

The picture looks much more realistic.

I love this game!

 

Of course, I could continue working on that picture giving it some more light and sharpness but I am leaving that for later.

For now, let’s just get rid of that unsightly gray film.

Let’s burn the haze!

 

What I find most fascinating about this technique, aside from its terrific result, is how quickly and easily it’s done:
 

1. Open the picture in Photoshop (File -> Open).
 

2. In the Layers palette, click on the Background layer and then press Ctrl+J (Mac: Command+J) to create a duplicate layer. Leave this new layer selected (highlighted).
 

3. Click Enhance (in the upper bar) -> Unsharp.
 

A new window will pop up.
 

4. With the Amount slider go somewhere between 15 – 30. Then move the Radius slider somewhere between 17 and the end of the line. Set the Threshold slider to 0.

Play with the Amount and Radius sliders to achieve the desired effect. Then click OK.
 

5. Now click Layer (in the upper bar of your screen) -> Merge Visible.
 

6. Save the picture (File -> Save As).
 

And that’s it!
 
 

This is another SOOC (straight out of the camera) picture.
 
 

Haze be gone!
 
 

And another one before the treatment.

 
 

And after.

 

Just try this technique and let your pictures enjoy some more clarity, contrast and sharpness.

Enjoy, dear friends!

 

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This roulade, which by the way is just another word for a roll, is devilishly good.

There are countless variations of chicken roulades, in fact. They can be stuffed with basically anything you can imagine. Well, not anything maybe (chocolate chicken roulade might be a little too funky, I guess), but still there are many ingredients that just work perfectly in that lovely rolled up wonder.

Spinach, bacon, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, shallots – these are just some of the ideas, and the list goes on.

 

What I love about chicken roulades is how cute they look. This is one of those dinners that will elicit a lot of oohs and wows.

And you know what?

They really are easy to make!

 

 

Here’s what we need.
 
 

1. First, preheat the oven to 400 °F (200 °C).

 

2. Place the chicken breast into a Ziploc bag (or between two sheets of plastic wrap).
 
 

3. Beat the chicken breast with a meat mallet until about 1/8 inch (3 mm) thin.

 
 

This is the ham I had on hand.

It’s beyond yummy!

 
 

4. Place two slices of ham lengthwise along middle of the breast.

 
 

5. Then place two thin slices of the cheese over the ham.

I use Edam cheese in this recipe. You can, of course, use any kind you like.
 
 

Blue cheese.

My true love.
 
 

6. Now divide the blue cheese into three equal parts and arrange one third crosswise at the near end of the breast.

We are starting to create the center of our roulade here.

 

 

These are red peppers.

I had some pickled ones in my fridge.

Yum!
 
 

7. If you are using fresh red pepper then place two thin slices over the blue cheese.
 
 

8. And two green pepper slices over the red ones.
 
 

9. Roll the chicken roulade from one end to form a cylinder, securing the seam with a couple of toothpicks.
 
 

11. Secure the ends as well.

We definitely want to keep those flavorful juices inside.
 

12. Repeat the process for each of the two remaining chicken breasts.
 
 

13. Brush a baking pan with some olive oil and place the roulades inside, the seam side down.
 
 

14. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil with salt.
 
 

15. And brush the roulades with the oil mixture.
 
 

16. Place in the oven and bake (at 400 °F – 200 °C) for 30 minutes.

There will be a little juice in the pan when your remove the roulades from the oven.

Keep it please, it’s precious.
 
 

17. Remove the roulades from the pan and let them rest for 5 minutes before doing anything else.
 

18. Then remove the toothpicks and slice the roulades crosswise into 1/2 inch (1 1/2 cm) rounds.

Then sit down for awhile and feast your eyes on that cute structure you’ve just created.

 
 

When serving these cuties, pour a little of that precious and flavorful sauce from the pan over them. That will make them even more moist and delicious.
 

You can serve these roulades warm with toasts.

Or, to create a more satisfying dish, serve them with mashed potatoes.

 

And most importantly, ENJOY, dear friends!

 

(This recipe takes about 1 hour to prepare and makes 3 servings.)
 

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