Monday, February 27, 2012

The Queen of (Cookie) Hearts

It may be only February, but spring is in the air. Our Wednesday forecast is 66 degrees, and my outside plants are responding! All over the yard, patches of daffodils are coming up.

I was gratified to see new growth on my hydrangea bushes, too. Last year I pruned too aggressively and nothing bloomed. I didn't realize that hydrangeas bloom on old wood! I left them alone last fall, though. I'm looking forward to some beautiful blooms!

My columbines are coming up in little patches...

...and my lilac bushes are budding out.

In about 3 weeks, I'll be able to start my summer flowers indoors. This year we're ordering heat mats and grow lights, so I'm really looking forward to seed planting!

This week, I decided to make up some little packages of cookies to send to a couple of local friends. I had forgotten about a cookie technique that I'd wanted to try on Valentine's Day, so I used this opportunity to practice. I've talked about sugar cookies and royal icing in a previous blog entry, so please refer to that for ingredient details.

First, I made some heart-shaped sugar cookies.

I used thick royal icing to outline the cookie, and then watered down royal icing to "flood" the inside of the cookie. I put some pink dots in the icing...

...and, then using a toothpick, dragged up one line of dots and down the others with the tip. It was a really easy technique and I was pleased with the results.

Because I used royal icing, the icing dried the pink hearts weren't on top of the icing, but within it.

See? Hearts!

I thought they looked so pretty!

Since I had the tools at my fingertips, I decided to try another method called brush embroidery. You just need stiff royal icing and a clean, small paintbrush. First, you outline the petals of a flower on your iced cookie surface, after it dries overnight.

Use your paintbrush to drag the outline icing down. It's that simple. There's no real "painting technique" needed!

Once you have one layer done, do another circle for the inner petals.

Drag it in with your paintbrush.

Use some Wilton's sugar pearls... put centers in your flowers.

Want leaves? Just pipe in the leaf outline...

...and drag the icing in with your paintbrush.

I really think they're pretty! Perfect for spring. I can't wait to make more.

I had some leftover sugar roses, so I decorated a few cookies with them and got everything all boxed up. Lovely, if I do say so myself!

I hope you have a great week!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There's Snow Better Time for Cinnamon Roll Scones

We got a beautiful, if short-lived, snowfall recently.

Borga had a nice time keeping track of everything that was happening...the softly falling flakes, the seed-seeking birds, the playful squirrels.'s time to go in already?

It may be freezing outside, but we've got a lot of beautiful green inside. I've started two new trailing houseplants, and although my paperwhite flowers have died, the green stems are still tall and strong. The bougainvillea tree is blooming, too.

It's so beautiful, brightening up the corner where it sits.

The amaryllis plants are growing nice, healthy stalks, although they won't actually bloom for many weeks.

I love winter green!

Besides tending for the indoor plants and taking silly glamour shots of our cats...

...I've been working on some knitting projects. This past weekend, I was finally able to give away this baby blanket that I knitted late last year. It's a classic design known as Old Shale, with cables in between the fans of lace. I really enjoyed knitting it.

I rarely buy yarn...the yarn I bought in Portland was the first yarn I'd bought in a year...but I had to go to my local yarn store to buy some gift yarn for a friend, and I was seduced by some bulky-weight Misti Alpaca. So soft, and beautiful saturated colors.

It's amazingly soft and snuggly, and it begged to be made into something special. Unfortunately, it's quite expensive, and I only bought 1 skein...not enough for the scarf I'd hoped for.

Before deciding on a project, I knitted up several swatches to see how the colors played out. This swatch of garter stitch was too dense for my tastes.

I tried a drop stitch swatch, which I really liked, at first. Drop stitching is really easy. It's knitting stockinette, but you loop the yarn around your needle twice to knit, instead of once. It makes great use of a small bit of yarn and displays the colors nicely.

Drop stitch patterns move amazingly fast and I finished a scarf in an hour. I just didn't like the finished product, though, so I frogged it (to Todd's horror - he doesn't yet understand that sometimes yarn and your chosen project don't agree) and started again.

I originally shied away from knitting a stockinette swatch, because stockinette edges curl, and the fabric is quite dense. However, I fell in love with the swatch I knitted.

Armed with the stitch I wanted and the yarn information, I was then able to make an informed decision when searching the Ravelry database for a pattern. I settled on a pretty cowl...which I will make sometime soon!

I've been cooking a lot lately, as usual. As much as I'm trying to stay away from sweets, I saw a recipe on Annie's Eats for cinnamon roll scones. The sugar content didn't look too high, and they are made with both white and whole wheat flour. I decided to throw caution into the wind and make a somewhat modified version.

Cinnamon Roll Scones
Modified from Annie's Eats
Makes 14 scones

1 stick butter, cold
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Milk, for brushing
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup toasted pecans (optional)
1/4 cup cinnamon chips (optional)

3 ounces cream cheese
1/2 - 3/4 cup powdered sugar, to taste
a dash of vanilla
enough milk to bring the glaze to the desired consistency

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and whisk to combine. Cut in your cold butter, using a fork or a pastry cutter, until the butter is reduced to pea-sized bits. In a separate bowl, mix milk and yogurt and fold into dry ingredient mixture. Be sure not to over mix!

When your dough is mostly mixed, flour your work space well and roll out dough into a 10 inch square. Brush the surface well with milk. Whisk together filling ingredients and sprinkle over dough, covering the surface evenly. Roll your dough into a roll. It will be messy...that's all right.

Use a sharp knife to cut your roll into one-inch slices. I got 14 slices out of mine. Place them on a pizza stone or greased cookie sheet.

Mmmmm...don't they look good?

Bake for 14 - 16 minutes, until golden brown.

Whisk up your glaze and ice the tops.

These are soft and tender like a scone and sweet like a cinnamon roll...but much healthier!

I hope you give them a try soon.

Have a great week!

Monday, February 13, 2012

That's How the Cookie Crumbles

It's almost Valentine's Day, and I love all the fun baked goods and silly cards that come with it. Last year I made a four layer cake with a cake heart hidden inside, and this year, too, I wanted to tackle something that I've always been afraid to try. I wanted to use royal icing, and I wanted to make realistic flowers. I spent some time at Sweet Sugar Belle's website, and that's where you can go for recipes and in-depth tutorials.

First, I mixed up a small batch of royal icing. Royal icing differs from standard icing by incorporating meringue powder. It hardens overnight and you can stack your cookies without fear of icing smudge...a big benefit when you're mailing or giving away packages of cookies.

Royal icing is beaten until it's very stiff.

I took a portion of the completed icing and added some color. Be sure to cover the royal icing you aren't dries quickly!

I put my icing in a Pampered Chef squeeze bottle and used a tip that was wide at one end and narrow at the other.

The directions for making icing roses called for this odd, flat tool that came in my Wilton decorating kit. that's what it's for!

Place a dot of royal icing in the center of the tool and press a small square of wax paper onto the top.

Squeeze out a dab of icing, and then use your fingers to twirl the tool in a clockwise motion, simultaneously pushing out a steady stream of icing. Voila! A tiny bud.

Pick a random spot on the side of the bud and lay your tool against it, narrow edge up. Continue twirling and pushing out frosting. Soon, unbelievably, you'll have a rose.

I made pink roses. I made yellow roses. I made blue roses. I made more roses that I could possibly use...but they were so fun and easy to make, I couldn't stop!

Let your roses dry for at least 4 hours. Meanwhile, bake your sugar cookies. Take some royal icing and give the shape a nice outline.

Now you need to water down the icing for the next part. Just enough to give it a "shampoo" consistency. "Flood" the center of your design and use a toothpick to spread out the frosting to the edge. Your edge piping has already hardened and will hold the fluid frosting in nicely.

I was a little stingy with my flooding, because I was afraid that I'd run out. However, I had plenty. Fill in all your cookies and let them dry at least 4 hours. If the icing is really thick, let them sit out overnight.

I decided to try a lace technique with some of the cookies, in addition to the roses.

It didn't turn out like I'd hoped, so I decided to do random designs.

I think they look very festive!

Especially, I love how the roses turned out. I used a dot of royal icing to affix them to the cookies and piped on some leaves.

The big hearts had three roses, but the smaller hearts had just one.

Even the teeny tiny hearts got roses!

My original intention was to make a huge batch of cookies last week, so I could mail them to friends and family who lived out of town. However, with the new dog, my schedule was a bit off, so I had to be content with making a few boxes up for local friends. They looked so pretty, all boxed up.

I stamped a quick greeting (WalMart...$1!)...

...and tied up the boxes with yarn.

It was so fun to do and I'm really happy with the results!

Google Calendar reminded me in early January to start thinking about Todd's Valentine's Day gift. I'd seen a really creative idea online and decided to try it. I'd read about Artist Trading Cards before - decks of cards utilized to make miniature works of art. It went hand-in-hand with the idea I'd read about, which was using a deck of cards to list 52 things that you love and appreciate about your significant other.

I knew this was going to be a time-intensive project, but I had no idea that it would take five weeks to complete! It was a labor of love, though.

I hole-punched each playing card and used a different color of scrapbook paper to cover the face of each one. Two metal rings held the whole thing together. It is one big book!

Each card is a different "work of art"...and I use that term loosely! Sometimes I used magazine clippings to praise an attribute in a silly way, like when I made a card for "your bristly ears"...

...or "your beautiful eyes".

This alligator was made for laughing!

I loved having the chance to tell him how I appreciated the little things, like his dedication to his work...

...or how he did little things for me that I am always grateful for, like making trips to the post office for me.

I complimented his brain...

...and his love of board games.

How could I forget his love of road trips, which I also share?

It was fun to use the little scrapbook things I've picked up over the past year, like this ticket that I made "ADMIT ONE" letters for.

Many cards had free-swinging parts.

And how could I forget Spock?

I made sure to give thanks for his help with the animals...

And so on, and so on. Fifty two cards! The last card, of course, says it all. What else do I love about him?

I am so grateful for him and I appreciate everything he does for me on a daily basis. I never imagined that I'd have such a wonderful husband and I was happy to have the opportunity to let him know exactly how I feel, and how much I love him!

You don't have time to make this for Valentine's Day this year, of course, but this could be a great birthday present! Pick up a pack of cards this week and get started. Have a great Valentine's Day!