Sunday, October 31, 2010

Comfort food!


I want to begin by saying that I almost decided not to ever post this.  But I decided to go ahead do it.  You will soon understand why.  

I have a close group of friends from my undergrad.  They are wonderful people and I love them dearly.  Every month, we try to get together for a dinner.  We all rotate who will host the dinner, and it was my turn for the month of October.  I decided on a theme of "comfort".  Comfort food, comfort clothes (yay, sweat pants) and a comfortable competition!

Here is everything you will need to host your own "Maybe if you ate more comfort food, you wouldn't go around shooting people (A lengthy party title, I know, but it's a quote from Hugo, from Lost, a show that I loved).
Three different types of chili.

Rummikub (or any other type of game) and prizes.

Pumpkin Cheesecake! (See below)

Things for guests to bring: fritos, chips, tortillas, cheese, cornbread, drinks, etc.  

The party was fun, relaxing and comfortable.  Buuuut, the party was almost ruined by a near baking failure.  Which is why I almost did not go through with this post...  Just be warned, I almost killed the key component to this night of comfort. 

Pumpkin Cheesecake
This recipe came partly from my mother and partly from a coworker, with little tidbits from info online I found about making a cheesecake.  This was the first time I had made a cheesecake by myself, so it was an adventure (as you will see).

For the crust...

1 1/2 cups finely ground graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup white sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
dash of cinammon (I would also be curious to add perhaps some nutmeg or pumpkin spice next time...) 

For the cheesecake...

3 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened (I used reduced fat)
1/2 cup sour cream (Again, used reduced fat)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup pumpkin pie mix (this amount is flexible, depending on your pumpkin preferences)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg

For the toppings...

Caramel (Next time, I want to make my own...but for this go around, we used store bought)
Whipped Cream

For the cooking...
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Mix graham crackers, sugar, melted butter and cinnamon until well blended.  (I had to do this in two halves because my mixer is so tiny, but it worked out perfectly)

  • Press the graham cracker mixture into the bottom of a cheesecake springform pan.  Bake for 7 minutes. 

  •  Drop the oven temperature down to 325 degrees F.

  • Combine cream cheese, sugar and vanilla.  Then, blend in eggs one at a time.  

  • Fold in the sour cream.

  • Remove 1 1/2 cups of the batter and gently spread it over the crust in the cheesecake springform pan. 

  • Add pumpkin mix, cinnamon and nutmeg and blend at a low speed until everything is well mixed.  

  • Spread over the batter in the crust!

  • Bake for an hour. 

  • Turn off the oven, leave cheesecake in the oven for another hour (this prevents the cheesecake from cracking).

  • Refrigerate for at least three hours.

  • Spoon on a layer of caramel and/or whipped cream.

Theoretically, this should result in a beautiful, pumpkin cheesecake.  Buuuuut, when I opened up the stove, I found this.


I realized that I probably put the cheesecake too close to the top of the oven, thus the cheesecake looked super burned, which resulted in a super panicked me because I did not have the time or ingredients to bake it again. 

A little less panicked.
  But then, I started peeling off the top layer, and suddenly I was very, very relieved.  It was perfect! 

Not so panicked at all any more.

 Underneath the crispy top was a perfectly baked cheesecake! 

Adding the layer of caramel helped hide some of this near bake failure.  Adding the whipped cream would have covered it completely, but some of the guests who attended the party did not like whipped cream, so we opted to let people put it on their own individual slices.

Not extremely aesthetically pleasing.  But what Katelyn and I really focus on is form AND function.  In this case, I'd say this is about 25% form (not so pretty) and 75% function (delicious!).

 As I said earlier, I almost did not post this, but really the best part was no one even knew that I almost killed the dessert, and I received lots and lots of compliments.  I am pretty sure I will be making it again for Thanksgiving, I'm sure my family will love it. 

Oh, and please have a happy halloween!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Advent Calendar

Yes, it is most definitely October. And yes, I think it's outrageous when Christmas music plays before Remembrance Day (November 11th in Canada). Actually, if I see a HINT of Christmas before December 1st, I get annoyed. Christmas (aside from the Christian/Pagan/Festivus thing) should really be about love, generosity and amazing food.


My boyfriend of over three years, Lars, has decided to pursue an opportunity which would mean that he and I would be living on different continents and eight time zones apart. For at least five years. Though I am not pleased with the circumstances, I am extremely happy for him and at the current moment, we have decided to take advantage of Skype and e-mails and all of the wonderful technology available to us in this age.

Me and Lars

This still means that he won't be home for Christmas. And he will also not have a fixed address to which I can send a present to, at least for now.

And so, while I still had his presence until Friday, I wanted to give him something that he would be able to pack with him and yet enjoy a wicked, love filled present to enjoy while away from friends and family this holiday season. But I had only 2 days to create it.

Mission: Create a small, meaningful, thoughtful, quick to make, personal and awesome Christmas gift in a minimal amount of time.

It's pretty difficult to fulfil all of those requirements. And then I thought: ADVENT CALENDAR.

For the travel-friendly version, this requires a printer, a digital camera, scissors, glue and a pen.

Canon (the printing company) has fabulous envelope templates that were just what I needed. I chose the ones that I wanted from here and printed them 2 per page, so that I would get small mini envelopes. You can make your own envelopes, but I was extremely pressed for time. These ones were great for that! (sorry for the picture here, bad lighting)

After cutting them, I assembled them just by cutting the templates out and using a glue stick. Each template also comes with what looked like seals, so I cut my favourites and glued them on the top flap.

What I ended up with was 25 mini envelopes complete with seals!

Inside each mini envelope, I put a picture of some inside jokes, fond memories, things that he likes and inspirational quotes along with messages of love and support. Then I glued the bottom of the seals to close up the envelopes.

In the end, I bundled them up with parcel string for a quaint take on this advent calendar.

Mission: Accomplished.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Michelle My Bell

Part ONE:
Friday was my friend Michelle's birthday, and she is very, very, very crafty. So for her birthday, I knew I had to get very, very, very crafty to make her a worthy present. I've had this idea for a magnet board for a looooong time, and I knew I wanted to incorporate it into her present.

And then I found this at Old Navy. A cute tank top with a shell design (plus it was on clearance, and I love sales!)

This tank top inspired a themed birthday present. I love The Beatles, so I wanted to collect a compilation of gifts that in some way spelled out "Me-Shell, my bell" in tribute of the song Michelle my Belle. Thus began the hunt for perfect gifts that fit the theme.

"Me" was easy--I had already created the magnet board (which I will explain later) and on the back, I had written, "Love, me". So I had my "me".

"Shell" was also easy, because I had already found the tank top with the shell on it.

"My" gave me a few options. I considered finding her a magazine that had "my" somewhere on the cover page. But then Michelle presented me with the perfect solution about two weeks ago. She told me she was in desperate for new music! Perfect, so I made her a mix CD (the first song, of course, was "Michelle my Belle" by The Beatles).

"Belle" was the most problematic. I wanted to find her something she would love and actually use. I found a bell at the dollar store, but it was very teacher-y and Michelle had absolutely no use for this... So, my practicality told me no. I also considered finding something with Belle from Beauty and the Beast, but again, no real practicality in that, seeing as Michelle is an adult. So, I went to the store Anthropologie (Michelle and I happen to be obsessed with their merchandise and styles, but we definitely cannot afford shopping there on the regular...) I was hoping to find some inspiration (or some conveniently beautiful bell). No such luck. Right as I was about to leave, I found this amazing little book. It's called the "Non-Planner Date Book".

It's a very creative mix between a journal and a datebook, which is so incredibly perfect for Michelle. I frantically flipped through the pages hoping that by some miracle there would be a bell on one. No such luck. But the book was so perfect, I had to buy it for her. Then, I decided to just draw a bell on the first page and call it good!

To wrap everything up, I compiled all of the pictures together (plus one of me holding a sign that said "happy birthday") to make a birthday card that depicted "Happy Birthday to Michelle my Belle"!


Part TWO:
Now, back to the magnet board. Here is what you will need:

1. Spray paint the cookie sheet whatever color you want! (My base color was black)

2. Decide on a design if you want one, and paint! I found this image of a chicken with hearts awhile ago, but I cannot remember where I found it from!! It was similar to this, but I'm not sure if it was exact...If anyone has seen it before, let me know so I can give proper credit where it is due!

3. Ironically, the day after I finished this project, the giant yellow pages book was delivered to my door, and with these three little magnets! So perfect.

I cut the magnets to the design I wanted (similar to my big design) and painted them (using acrylic paint).

4. I braided the three ribbons I chose to use (although I'm sure one would have worked just as fine).

5. And glued my braided ribbon to the back of the cookie sheet.

And done! A magnet board for pictures, notes, or perhaps just decoration... =)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blueberry Hydrangea

In honour of our launch date and my first post, I would like to introduce the Blueberry Hydrangea, a dessert that I had concocted just this afternoon for our family's Thanksgiving Dinner. You'll probably see a holiday discrepancy later on, as American Thanksgiving takes place in November (if I remember correctly). The name of the dessert, Blueberry Hydrangea stems from the fact that it looks like well, the Hydrangea, pictured here:


1 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 tbsp sugar
1tsp salt
2/3 cups cold water

For this dessert, I started with a pastry dough. After adding and mixing the dry ingredients together, I cut in the butter until it was all crumbly and then added the water to form the dough.

After the dough ball has been formed, roll it out on a flat, floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Just a warning, this pastry is quite flaky and therefore a bit of a pain to work with. However, it
is very delicious and once you get past the crumbly, flaky, sticky mess and finally get a nice flat sheet of pastry, you will be glad you stuck it out. I would roll the dough to a thickness of quarter 1/4". Then cut it into squares.

As you can see, I used a pizza cutter. This is because it made my lines cleaner and the cutting easier.

After you get a square, pop it into a very small, shallow muffin tin with the corners poking up. Your first hydrangea! This batch make enough for 24 small cups. Pop them in the fridge while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees and start the filling. Bake the shells for 20 minutes or until golden brown, like so. Even the bottoms of the pastry should be a little browned!

Now for the filling, pictured on the right.
1 tbsp butter
3 cups frozen blueberries
3 tbsp sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp cream cheese
2 tbsp flour

In a saucepan, heat butter on high heat until melted. Throw in berries, sugar, lemon juice and cream cheese. You can lower the heat a little here. Once the berries have thawed and heated up, you'll notice a gorgeous juice bubbling. You can add the flour here to thicken it up.

And once the shells have cooled, gently (and I mean very gently) spoon the filling in and garnish with a tiny mint leaf. Tada! Serve with whipped cream (trust me on this one!).

That concludes the inaugural post.. stay tuned!

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