Monday, October 16, 2017

Bridal Shower Cookies

Making any type of sugar cookie decorated with royal icing requires some planning, time management, and very good ingredients.  I like to begin these projects several days before the event, so that I don't run into problems.

Recently, I had the pleasure of making some bridal shower cookies in the shapes of tuxedos and wedding dresses for a dear neighbor.  Although I have never created any wedding cookies before, I do own several cookie cutters perfect for such an occasion. 


The wedding dress cookie was made with a copper cutter that I purchased from a very good friend several years ago, and the tuxedo top came from a recent purchase of Sweet Sugarbelle cookie cutters at Michael's.  If you don't own the shape shifters set from Sweet Sugarbelle, I highly recommend getting it because the cookie cutters lend themselves to so many things.  

After baking the cookies, I made several batches of royal icing in black and white.  For this project, I made sure to have a flooding consistency icing, as well as a stiff royal icing in both colors.  


I altered the dress-shaped cookies before I even baked them.  The original shape of the cookie cutter had a skirt with a scalloped bottom, so I decided to trim the scallops of the cookies using a "trim edger cutter" from that set of shape-shifters I mentioned earlier.  After baking and cooling the dresses, I traced a sweetheart bodice, and a two-part skirt with a Wilton Food Writer pen.


The gowns were then iced in several stages.  The outside areas of some of the ball gowns were outlined and flooded in white royal icing using a #3 piping tip.  I then placed either white or pink pearl candies along the centers as shown.  The areas were left to dry completely.  I then outlined and flooded the center areas of the skirts  with the same white royal icing, and left them to dry completely.  The sweetheart bodices were then outlined and flooded with white royal icing using a #2 tip, and were immediately flocked with either coarse, clear sanding sugar (for sparkly tops) or with white nonpareils (for pearly tops).  The cookies were left to dry completely.  Any stray sugar crystals or nonpareils were removed after the tops were dry.


White royal icing dots were added to the neckline of the cookies with a #2 tip to create a delicate pearl necklace, and more dots were placed along the edges of the gowns as shown.  The center area on some of the skirts were enhanced with a super-white edible glitter; dip a small brush into the glitter pot and carefully paint it onto the dried royal icing.  The glitter won't immediately stick to the icing, but if you leave it alone, it will settle.  I treated the bare areas of the cookies with the same edible glitter.  Voila!


The tuxedo tops of the gentlemen were made using the adorable "gift box with ribbon" cutter from Sweet Sugarbelle.  Her set of cutters comes with recipes and decorating instructions.  She had a version of this tuxedo top that I fell in love with, so I used it!  The tuxedo jacket areas were outlined and flooded with black royal icing as shown.  These areas were left to dry completely.


Don't they look spiffy already?


Bow ties were outlined and flooded with the same black royal icing using a #1 piping tip.  A single drageĆ© was placed in the middle of the bow tie.  This area was left to dry completely.  I then used a #2 piping tip and some white royal icing to fill in the shirt, and while the icing was still wet, I piped black shirt studs down the middle.  The cookies were then left to dry completely.  

The lapels and the edges of the bow ties were piped with a #1 tip, and some black royal icing (it has to be stiff).  Done! 


As you can see, I modified the skirts and the bodices on most of the gowns to give some variety.  All of the tuxedos, though, were exactly the same.  I loved the way the wedding gowns sparkled!


Wrapped in clear cellophane bags and tied with white ribbons, the Bridal Shower Cookies were ready to be placed on platters for gift-giving.


It's a certainty that you will know of a bride-to-be in the near future.  If you happen to be adept at making royal icing cookies, consider making a set of cookies for a bridal shower.  Use these cookies as a guide or create your very own edible works of art.  Make sure that you make a cookie for everyone attending the bridal shower.  In fact, make extras just in case.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Martha Stewart's 'Newlywed Kitchen' Cookbook

The latest publication to come from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living is a beautifully photographed, well-organized and practical cookbook dedicated to newlywed couples.  One should look at Martha's 'Newlywed Kitchen' as a sensible, attainable and delicious compilation of recipes for anyone starting a home. In this book you will get tips on how to stock a pantry, what essential kitchenwares to buy for your home, choosing the right china and linens for the table, and of course, a good amount of recipes for weekday meals, weekend brunches, desserts and even holiday get-togethers.    


Personally, I think it's rather genius to have a cookbook with recipes that make two servings, instead of the usual four and over.  Martha's book will not only be useful for the newlywed couple, but it will be exceptionally helpful for any couple who wants to cook fresh, delicious meals, without having to waste time, energy and resources making large quantities of food.  As I said, it's brilliant.


The chapter on Serving Essentials is great because you get a thorough digest of must-have dinnerware, glassware, serveware, linens and entertaining accessories.  Pay attention to these suggestions as they will come in handy.


The layout of the recipes makes it easy to follow each step, and the photography is nothing short of beautiful.  It's what we've come to expect from a Martha Stewart publication.  


About halfway through the book, there are some "cooking school" lessons called 'Mix-and-Match Mains & Sides', which focus on a main dish, with all of the essential how-to steps, in addition to four side-dish suggestions.  This allows you to pick and choose from week to week.  How great is that?  Again, the sides serve two!


Let's not forget desserts and the Gather Round chapter which gives us menus for a small crowd, and instructions on how to cook a Weekend Brunch, A Game Day Chili,  a Fondue Dinner, a Taco Fiesta, among others.  Included in this chapter is a thorough Thanksgiving Day dinner and a wonderful Holiday Cocktail party menu.



I could go on and on about Martha's Newlywed Kitchen, but I'll leave the rest for you to discover.  Newlywed Kitchen is out November 7th, so don't miss the opportunity to order a copy of this book as soon as possible.  It will be the perfect addition to any wedding registry, a great gift this holiday season for any couple, and it will fit in nicely in your own kitchen library.  Think of it as your go-to cookbook when it's just the two of you and you want something delicious for dinner. 

You're going to love this book!!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Baby Pumpkin and Baby Face Sugar Cookies

Baby pumpkin onesie cookies and baby face sugar cookies are great for surprising a mother-to-be this autumn.  These cookies are so adorable and easy to make, that you're going to want to bake dozens of them for the expecting mother's baby shower.  Find appropriate cookie cutters, some good recipes for sugar cookies and royal icing, and set aside a day or two to pipe the simple designs onto baked and cooled cookies.


From the designers and coppersmiths at CopperGifts, the baby face cookie was made with the boy cutter from the Baby Face Boy and Girl Cookie Cutter Set.  The cute onesie was made with the Baby Onesie Cookie Cutter.  I used my heirloom sugar cookie recipe and my royal icing recipe (use the search engine on the blog to find the recipes) for the cookies you see here.

Once the cookies had been baked and cooled, I mixed small batches of royal icing in ivory (baby face), light brown (baby eyes and hair), light pink (baby's mouth), avocado green (onesie detailing), and pumpkin (for the pumpkins and onesie detailing).  White royal icing was used for the bodies of the onesies.


For the onesies, outline and flood the bases of the cookies in white royal icing; let dry completely.  Using the avocado-green royal icing and a #2 piping tip, pipe beads of icing for the arms, neck and leg lines of the onesie, and pipe dots for the onesie snaps as shown.  Using a stiff royal icing tinted a pumpkin color (orange mixed with a tiny amount of brown) and a #22 open-star tip, pipe small "pumpkins" toward the bottom of the onesie as shown.  Hold the piping bag at a 45-degree angle to get the correct shape of the pumpkin.  Using a cookie decorating pick with a spade end, push the tips of the "stems" of the pumpkins downward, so that they don't stick out.


Using the avocado-green royal icing and a #2 piping tip, pipe dots for the stems of the pumpkins as shown.  Let dry.


Using the pumpkin-colored royal icing and switching to a #2 piping tip, pipe dots along the neck and arms of the onesies as shown.  Let dry.

As soon as the cookies have dried completely, package them up in clear cellophane bags and tie them with a colorful ribbon.  Easy!


For the baby face sugar cookies, outline and flood the bases of the cookies in ivory-colored royal icing using a #4 or #5 piping tip; let dry.  Using the light-brown royal icing and a #2 piping tip, pipe the swirly "hair" onto baby as shown, and pipe two dots for the irises of the eyes.  Immediately place black pearl candies in the centers of the eyes to create pupils.  Using the light-pink royal icing and a #1 piping tip, pipe a small smile onto the baby's face as shown.  Let the icing dry completely.



Last, but not least, use a little bit of pink petal dust and a very fine paint brush (keep brushes exclusively for cookie decorating) to apply the tiniest amount of blush onto the baby's face.  Cuteness!!  The cookies are now ready for packaging.





How easy was it to decorate these little cutie pies?  It's hard to resist baby pumpkin onesies and baby face cookies.  There is no reason to stick with the standard light pink or light blue for a baby shower.  Made this way, and by using an autumnal color palette, you can make the cookies in keeping with the season.  It's a good thing too, especially if you don't know if the baby is to be a boy or a girl.  Keep them guessing right up until the end!

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Beautiful September Day

I had the most marvelous afternoon this past weekend while visiting my friends' property nearby.  If you remember a short while ago, I promised you that I would visit the chickens that lay those beautiful eggs, which we've been partaking of here at home.  I finally took that much-needed trip to see the "ladies" and visit my friends.


When I arrived, I noticed that some of the flowers near the home and around the outbuildings were still in bloom.  The garden planted by my friends, Luke and Alicia, was bursting with vegetables ready for harvesting.  To top it all off, the sky was as clear and blue as the ocean.  

Our area of Pennsylvania has been experiencing very warm temperatures of late.  The days have been feeling more like midsummer than early fall, but you won't hear me complaining because I don't mind sunny days and eighty degree temps.  I'll take this weather and whatever the garden has to offer, any day.


Years ago, I visited this beautiful property and blogged about it by taking you inside the barns, the various outbuildings and by giving you a brief history behind the structures.  You can read about that experience by clicking here.


As we made our way to the garden area, I noticed a wire fence surrounding the parcel allocated for the vegetables.  Luke told me that in year's past, his fencing endeavors of mesh, chicken wire, etc., have not been as effective as this low-voltage, electrified fence.  Constructed of wire that winds around the four posts of the garden, the entire system connects to a solar-powered mechanism which can be turned on and off at the flick of a switch.


Can you guess what Luke is holding here?  I'm told that the little green pods which grow high on thin stalks were somewhat of an experiment to see if they would grow.  As you can see, they did.  Still no guesses?

Sesame seeds!!


Isn't it amazing how large sunflowers will get?  They always seem like something out of this world to me.


Alicia harvested several beets, including this beautiful golden one.  We began talking about how to best cook these beetroots.  I like them either roasted with olive oil (salt and pepper of course) or steamed with a little butter.  Tasty!


As we made our way back to the barns, we stopped by the little dairy outbuilding.  Luke discovered a small milk-keeping space that was hidden underneath a pile of stones.  This area was once used to hold metal milk churns back in the early 1900s.  Through a series of pipes, cool water would fill the area, and the milk containers would then get submerged for cooling.  Keep in mind that this was way before refrigeration.     


The inside of the building is very rustic, yet beautifully preserved.  Luke and Alicia think that this would be an ideal space for an extra kitchen in which to do large-scale cooking and baking.  Can't you just imagine a Garland stove against the wall, and a long farmhouse table right in the center?    


As I neared the door to the coop, I could hear the ladies clucking away.  The area where the chickens reside was originally used to house the bull on the dairy farm.  It's such a nice, sunny space that is well-insulated to keep the chickens cool in the summertime, and warm during the winter.  Hay is laid down along the floor of the coop, while bails are placed throughout so that the chickens can take a rest.  Feeders and water sources are hung from overhead.  


Look at this adorable Plymouth Rock trio that greeted me upon entering!  They were most welcoming and chatty.


Luke and Alicia tell me that they have a mix of Plymouth Rocks, Leghorns, Orpingtons, Australorps and Araucanas.  They are about to add Silkies to the mix!


What a beautiful Orpington.


Along one of the walls is a set of shelves reserved for the laying of eggs.  Taking a peek over the top, I noticed quite a few eggs ready for the taking.


The coop run is bright and sunny for the chickens to stretch their legs.  The girls can come and go as they please, but if you happen to be anywhere near the little hatch, they come running out because they know that treats are coming.  On this day, Luke fed them some tomato fresh from the garden.


The chickens are even let out from their coops for a bit of free-range time late in the afternoon.  It's so nice to see them run around the yard as a group.  They really do like to stick together.


Can you blame me for wanting to come here?  I can't get enough of the beautiful eggs from this property.  It's so nice to be able to enjoy something delicious that is locally sourced.  My omelets, fried eggs, cakes, frostings and cookies have been even better since I started using these beauties.  I vow to put some Maran chickens in their flock for the coming year, because I think they could do with some chocolate-brown eggs.

The last of the bounty from the garden.



I can't tell you how fortunate I am in knowing good people.  It isn't every day that one gets to make the connection with individuals who are passionate about locally sourcing fresh vegetables, eggs and other foodstuffs.  Luke and Alicia tell me that one day they would love to bring back some cows into the fold so that they can start milk production.  I hope that someday their dreams come true, for when it does, their endeavors will be as successful as their current small-scale cottage industry.

Thank you Luke and Alicia for allowing me to visit the property, and for continuing to supply my home with the best of the best! 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Crafts & Keepsakes from Martha Stewart Living

A year ago, while visiting a used book store in California, I found this wonderful binder that contained some of Martha Stewart Living's best crafts and keepsakes.  I had never seen it before, but I was told by several friends that it was worth owning.  While looking through it I found it to be wonderfully organized and appealing, so I took the advice of my friends and bought it.  At five dollars I don't think you can blame me for treating myself.  


I love being inspired by things from the past.  This special-edition binder contains some of the best crafts and keepsakes that have graced past issues of Martha Stewart Living magazine.  No doubt many, if not all of these crafts, have made it into the subsequent craft encyclopedias published by Martha Stewart Living.  Still, it's so nice to have a few memorable crafts in this flax-colored bookcloth binder.  


I love this idea of using eggshells to start seeds in one's home.  It's a great project to involve the kids in.  All you need are eggshells, potting soil or germinating mix, seeds, paper for tags, glue, coffee stirrers and an egg carton.


A set of collectible plates can be hung on a wall using annealed iron wire (18 gauge), plates that appeal to you and wall hooks.  The great thing about employing this technique is that you can make the hangers to size, rather than having to rely on store-bought ones that are already premeasured.  


Candied citrus peel is very much of the holiday season.  It's so easy to candy orange, lemon or grapefruit peel and either roll the finished strips in sugar or leave them in their own syrup.  This is a perfect gift for people that like to bake with citrus peel.


A grouping of framed silhouettes can provide such an interesting focal point for any wall.  I like this idea very much.


The easy project has you photographing the subject against a neutral background.  Each print photo background is then painted in white acrylic, while the actual person is filled in with a black marker.  The doctored image is then photocopied onto quality paper, which can be framed and arranged on a wall as shown.  This would be perfect for the pets of the family.  


Every year for Christmas I tell myself that I will make gingerbread tags for people's gifts, but somehow I forget to!  I really want to do this for friends and family that live near me, because it's such a charming way to personalize a gift. I have just the perfect mini alphabet cookie cutters for this project.


Pipe cleaner wreath ornaments are fun and festive for any tree.  I can see a grouping of these for a white feather tree or for a small tabletop Christmas arrangement.  Perhaps having several along a mantle or a single one attached to Christmas stockings would be nice too.


Easy!


I've seen this Crafts and Keepsakes binder come up for auction every once in a while, so look for it if you don't already own one.  It's the perfect reading material to get you in the crafting mood this coming holiday season.

Happy collecting and crafting!

Monday, September 4, 2017

That Day in September

The leaves of brown may come tumbling down in September, but for me, it's all about taking down the yellowware bowls from the shelves and giving them a prominent place in my kitchen.  I've told you before that these bowls are among my favorite pieces of stoneware to collect, and to this day, that remains true.  What better time to start using them than now?


September is also the perfect time to begin planning for the Fall and Winter months ahead.  I can already distinguish a few changes in the landscape as I take my walks around our home and throughout the neighborhood.  One may still be harvesting the last of the tomatoes or eggplants from the garden, but if you look up at the trees, at least it is the case here in Pennsylvania, you can already detect changes, however slight, in the foliage.

Yes, the months ahead are going to be very busy for me.  Requests for baby shower cookies are already noted, a Yom Kippur brunch that my friend wants me to help her with is in the works, endless cookies for the cafe are a given, the Halloween treats for my niece and nephews have to be planned,  my dear friend's destination wedding after Christmas that I am flying out to, is already booked! Let us not forget the Fall conundrum that many of us will face: do we host Thanksgiving this year at our home or will we attend someone else's? These are all things on my checklist for the rest of 2017.

More importantly though, is what we plan to honor our dear Lion with at the site of his resting place. I've been sharing my wishes with our gardener as to what I want the area to look like.  Not only do we want perennials so that they bloom year after year, but we really and truly want to capture the spirit and color of our little guy that we loved so much.  I'm thinking of bright-orange azaleas, and perhaps some tiger lilies, but the lively display of the dogwood shrub, 'Anny's Winter Orange' is also something I've been thinking.  Whatever we decide on, September is the month in which to do it.

Have you thought about what you will be doing before the year's end?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Vintage Enamelware Bowls

I have a penchant for mixing bowls, all types of mixing bowls.  Bowls are a must in any home because they are practical and helpful with a number of tasks in the kitchen.  From holding items for your mise en place and mixing batters, to serving portions at the table and storing leftovers, a good set of mixing bowls will always be welcomed in the kitchen.


Vintage enamelware bowls have slowly started to make their way into my home, because I find them to be charming and a perfect fit with the other vintage kitchen items that I love to collect.  I first took notice of them while visiting flea markets eons ago, but I never really inspected such pieces up close.  They were "filed away" in my memory under a future maybe/maybe not.

To put it simply, it didn't take long for me to get the first set of vintage enamelware bowls into the kitchen before they started to multiply.  It was instant attraction. 


Enamelware began to be manufactured in this country in the late 1800s, and continued to be produced right up until the end of World War II.  What made enamelware such a sought-after kitchen must-have, was its durability, its practicality, its affordability, its light-weight properties, and its usefulness in homes throughout the country.  No longer was it necessary to deal with heavy, stoneware bowls and pans that could chip, crack or break, because enamelware was virtually indestructible.

Made from light steel and coated with a colored porcelain enamel, each piece was then baked at very high temperatures.  This created a very durable finish, that was smooth and shiny.  Enamelware became a staple in many kitchens for this simple reason.  Bowls, ladles, pots and pans, basins, pitchers, percolators, mugs, plates and a number of other kitchenalia, were manufactured for decades by several American companies, such as the St. Louis Stamping Company (this later moved to Granite City, Illinois; hence the name 'graniteware'), Vollrath, Lalance and Grosjean of New York (they made blue-colored agateware), and the Bellaire Stamping Company.  One might venture to say that enamelware could be found in just about every American kitchen at the turn of the twentieth century.

In terms of colors, white was the most popular.  White pieces were often given a contrasting color along the rims of the vessels, with blue, red and black being the predominant colors.  Graniteware, which was given a speckled finish, became another popular type of enamelware; these finishes were often found in blue, red, and gray.  Other colors that were made during this time include orange, green, brown, purple and pink.  Many pieces meant for cooking, such as pots, pans, roasters and molds, were given contrasting colors on the insides.

The manufacturing of enamelware took a break for about twenty years, before starting up again in the 1960s.  Manufacturers around the world have been producing beautiful, utilitarian pieces using these traditional methods for decades.  Among my favorite of these international brands is Kockums of Sweden.


Of late, before I even reach for one of my prized stoneware bowls off a shelf or for some of my jadeite bowls that are in my cupboards, I will grab an enamelware bowl.  I love not having to worry about being extremely gentle with these bowls when I'm preparing food or desserts. 


Since enamelware, especially the vintage variety, is prone to cracking or chipping, I make it a point to look for pieces that aren't too damaged.  A little bit of scratching on surfaces is normal, a chip here and there is not uncommon.  If the pieces are used for display purposes only, then chipping and rusting shouldn't present any type of dilemma.  If, however, you plan to use your pieces for food preparation, then I strongly suggest that you find those which have no chipping on the inside surfaces, where food items will sit.


Vintage enamelware isn't for everyone, I know, but if you do in fact want to start a collection, visit a flea market and see what catches your attention.



Enamelware's bygone style and appeal is something that makes them suitable for our old home.  I love how they look sitting in my colonial kitchen ready to be used for the next job.  Because my bowls are old pieces, I do treat them with great care so that I can enjoy them for many years.  The bowls don't get placed in the dishwasher and they are not scoured with stiff pads or sponges.  I like to hand wash each piece in warm, soapy water, using a natural sponge or a soft bristle brush.  Metal whisks, spoons and spatulas are not used for food preparation whenever I use my vintage enamelware.  Instead, I use silicone spatulas and wooden spoons.  

I hope I've sparked an interest in enamelware for you.  Utilitarian, charming, and undoubtedly useful, are just some of the virtues of enamelware from olden days.  Don't overlook it the next time you're out antiquing, because you may find yourself wanting to use it just as much as I do.