Joseph Clay Arts

I met Joseph Chiang (Jospeh Clay Arts) several years ago when we where placed side-by-side at the St. Thomas Moore craft fair. I was amazed at how intricate and detailed his porcelain pieces were. For example, when he created a mug or a display vase, he included a tiny, perfect ladybug on the handle or on the edge of the vessel. So perfect was the little bug that I had the urge to try and remove it and set it free outside. Ladybugs are his signature, and are added to pieces which represent luck.

Each of his pieces is hand made and a one of a kind design. He uses high-quality porcelain clay and most of the pieces are wheel-thrown with unique shapes. They are waterproof and safe for use. All the pieces are exclusively made with different designs and glaze techniques. After several firing processes and after going through a thorough and careful selection, only the pieces of his highest quality are made available for purchase.

Joseph’s designs and works of art have garnered him a long list of international awards. He was selected for the 2008 Olympic Landscape Sculpture Design. He has won awards in exhibitions in South Africa, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, Italy, China, Macau and Canada.

Joseph can be found displaying his creations most weekends at the Granville Island Public Market, and at the Circle Craft Christmas Market each year in Vancouver.

G is for Gingerbread . . .

When someone tells me they don’t like gingerbread, I have to stop myself from giving my head a shake and staring at them like they have two heads. Not like gingerbread . . .phish-posh! No such thing! And then I have to consider that they actually mean they don’t like gingerbread cookies . .those hard, often store – bought stale cut outs decorated with rock hard icing and candy for buttons. Which aren’t really gingerbread at all. And real gingerbread isn’t really a bread, but a spiced cake . . . so yeah, I understand the confusion.

True gingerbread is attributed to being invented by the Greeks around 2800 B.C. and was originally thought to be made from breadcrumbs, spices and honey mixed together and formed into individual cakes. Today, ground ginger is always used; along with other spices such as cinnamon and ground cloves. Citrus zest, either lemon or orange can be used and will alter the flavor accordingly.

There are two type of molasses generally used in making gingerbread: Fancy or Cooking. Fancy molasses comes from the first boiling of the sugar cane and is lighter not only in colour but also in flavor. Dark or “Blackstrap” molasses results from the second (or sometimes third) boiling and is more condensed, giving it a more robust and deeper flavor. Cooking molasses is a blend of Fancy and Blackstrap molasses. In addition, molasses are specified as either “sulphured” or “unsulphured”, depending on whether or not sulphur dioxide was used during the processing.

The gingerbread that I make for make family and friends is a soft, moist snacking style cake made with Fancy molasses. You could use Cooking molasses . . . just keep in mind that the flavor will be stronger and you may need to increase the amount of sugar and reduce the spices to accommodate for the more pronounced flavor. This recipe freezes well, so it is great for making ahead and then thawing as needed. You can bake the recipe in the standard 13x9 inch baking pan or be creative in your presentation. Try dividing the batter between individual mini loaf pans, muffin tins, or use a decorative bundt pan. Be sure to adjust your baking time accordingly.

In addition to being a nice treat to snack on, this cake is delicious served as a warm dessert, especially during the fall and winter months. Sometimes I make it with a toffee or caramel sauce, sometimes with an orange cream sauce. Often I will sauté some apple slices in a little butter and brown sugar and pour this over the top, allowing the sauce to seep into the cake. Which of course means vanilla ice cream? Or a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Or both.


Soft Gingerbread Cake
½ cup sugar
½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup fancy molasses
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¾ cup water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a 13x9 inch baking pan (or other pans as selected).

In a medium sized bowl, blend together dry ingredients and spices. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in molasses. Beat in eggs on at a time and mixing well after each addition.

Blend flour mixture into creamed mixture, alternating with water. Gently pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake @ 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove pan from oven. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving warm, or cool completely if freezing.

Did someone say CUPCAKES ???

Prepare recipe as above, divide batter into cupcake pan(s) or into muffin tins lined with paper liners (you will get about 18 cupcakes). Once the cupcakes have cooled . . .

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, room temperature
2 tsp lemon peel, grated
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups icing sugar
1-2 tsp milk

In medium bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in grated lemon peel, cinnamon and vanilla and continue beating until combined. On a low speed, gradually beat in icing sugar, alternating with milk. Only add enough milk until mixture is a spreadable consistency.

Either spread or pipe frosting onto the top of each cupcake. Garnish or decorate with pieces of candied ginger or lemon peel, sparkling sugar, sprinkles (I like just plain white round sprinkles). Or, to be really cheeky, bake miniature gingerbread cookies and stick them in the frosting.

Quick tip: only frost as many cupcakes as you need. Frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator will dry out and who wants dried out cupcakes . . .?


F is for Funnel Cakes . . . .

Okay, so in a previous post I wrote about choux pastry and éclairs. Another way to use choux pastry (and there are many, many uses for choux pastry . . .) is to make Funnel Cakes.

Funnel cake is typically a street food enjoyed at carnivals, state fairs and sporting events, predominantly in the United States. We just don’t have as many carnivals and such here in Canada . . besides, we are pretty loyal to the mini doughnuts.

The origin of funnel cakes is unclear, though they are commonly associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. Many countries have various adaptations of this treat including Austria (strauben), Finland (tippaleipä), India (jalebi), Iran (zulbia) and Slovenia (flancati). Isn’t it cool how different cultures can have such similar dishes? Smart minds I tell you . . . smart minds.

Funnel cake gets its name from using a (you guessed it) funnel. The batter is poured through the funnel into the hot cooking oil, overlapping in a circular pattern. The dough is then fried until golden brown, removed from the deep fryer and served warm. Usually topping suspects include confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, jam, Nutella, fresh fruit compote, or a big mess of chocolate sauce and whipping cream.

Funnel cakes can range in size, and usually are between 6” to 9” in diameter. It’s really up to you how big or small you want to make them. But be aware: a 9” funnel cake WITHOUT toppings contains about 675 calories. This means you would only be able to eat 3 of these 9” pieces of fried dough goodness before maxing out on your daily calorie intake.

Funnel Cakes (makes 10, about 6 inches each)
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup water
4 oz. butter
1 cup flour
5 eggs
2 tsp. granulated sugar
pinch of salt

In a large saucepan, boil milk, water, butter, sugar and salt together. Remove from heat. Add flour and mix in until all the flour is incorporated and the dough forms a ball.

Transfer the dough to a large bowl and allow to stand about 3 minutes to cool slightly. Add eggs one at a time and beating after each addition, making sure each egg is completely incorporated into the dough before adding the next one. Continue beating until smooth.

Fit a pastry bag with a #12 round or a similar sized star shaped tip (I like the start shape, as it makes the dough look pretty). If you don’t want to use a pastry bag and want to go with the traditional funnel method, you can still get the pretty shape by inserting the start tip into the bottom of the funnel. Just be sure the tip extends past the opening of the funnel, and that it won’t fall out the bottom and into your oil. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy pan. While the oil is heating, fill the pastry bag. Once the oil is hot, Pipe the dough into the oil, in overlapping rings and coils to form a sort of nest shape. Or, you can zig-zag back and forth in a free-form lattice shape. Really, just have fun with it . . .it’s gonna taste the same regardless of shape. You will most likely have to fry the dough in batches, so have a small plate handy to rest your pastry bag or funnel on between batches.

Allow the dough to cook until golden brown, flipping once. Remove cakes from frying oil and place on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. While still warm, dust with confectioner’s sugar or a mixture of cinnamon and granulated sugar. Repeat until all the dough has been fried. Serve warm.

I like to break mine into pieces and dip into a little side dish of Nutella. Okay, maybe not so little of a side dish.

E is for Éclairs . . .

Mmmm . . .choux pastry, cream and chocolate.

I don’t make these often because my figure does not approve of the calories. Accept by way of adding to the waistline? yes . . .approve? not so much.

The French éclair is thought to have originated in France during the 19th century and quickly gained popularity due to its shape and ease to handle. Some food historians attribute its beginnings to the French chef Antonin Carême (1784 – 1833). The first recorded English – language recipe appears in the Boston Cooking School Cook Book by Mrs. D.A. Lincoln, which was published in 1884.

A traditional éclair is made with choux pastry dough, baked and then filled with a cream of some sort and topped with confectioner’s sugar, icing or chocolate. The dough is piped into an oblong shape with a pastry bag (make the shapes round and they become profiteroles) and baked until crisp on the outside and hollow on the inside. Once cool, the pastry is then either sliced in half or injected (remember, the pastry is hollow inside) with a pastry crème. Most common fillings are a coffee or chocolate (or both . . . making it mocha) pastry crème, though other fillings include vanilla custard, fresh whipped cream or chiboust crème. I’ve also had these filled with pistachio or chestnut custard. The top is either dusted with confectioner’s sugar, or glazed with chocolate. Sometimes the top is iced with caramel, but then the dessert magically morphs into a bâton de Jacob.

Éclair is French for "lightning," though the connection is obscure.

Ingredients (for 20 éclairs):

Éclair Pastry Dough:
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup water
4 oz. butter
1 cup flour
5 eggs
2 tsp. granulated Sugar
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat mats.

In a pot, mix water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt and bring to a boil. Once butter has completely melted, take the pot off the heat and slowly pour in the flour, stirring constantly.

Put the pot back on the heat and continue to work it with a wooden spoon. Continue stirring and kneading with spoon until the dough dries out and stops sticking to the sides of the pot.

Take the pot off the heat (I know, on the heat, off the heat, . . .enough already!) Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring energetically. You must work quickly.

Transfer the dough into a pastry bag fitted with a medium sized round or fluted tip. The size of your tip will determine the size of the éclair . . .bigger tip, bigger éclair. Squeeze out "finger-sized" éclairs onto prepared baking sheet, well-spaced apart to give them room to expand while baking.

Bake for 10 minutes. Then turn oven down to 385°F and bake another 10-12 minutes with the oven door open. Remove from oven and transfer from baking sheet onto cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.

Voilà! Step 1 complete

Chocolate Cream Filling:
6 oz. Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, chopped
1 cup Milk
4 Egg Yolks
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup Flour

Melt and milk in a pot and allow to mixture to come to a boil. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until it turns pale and light, almost whitens. Slowly add the flour, stirring. Slowly add chocolate and milk, stirring until homogenous (that means well blended).

Return pot to heat and bring mixture to a slow boil, stirring constantly until cream thickens and becomes smooth. Remove pot from heat and allow to cool.

Fit a pastry bag fitted with a long narrow round tip (the elongated narrow tip will allow you to piece the hollow pastry without causing a huge hole in the side. Fill pastry bag with cooled chocolate cream and begin filling the éclairs. Work slowly, you don’t want to have an éclair explosion on your hands. You will begin to feel when the pastry is full. If you don’t want to fill them with a pastry bag, you can cut the éclairs in half and just spoon the cream into the centers like a sandwich.

Et alors! Step 2 is complete.

Chocolate Icing:
5 oz. Unsweetened Chocolate
2 oz. Butter
1/4 cup Water

Melt chocolate with water in a small pot over a low heat. Add butter while whisking. Continue whisking until shiny and smooth.

Remove from heat. Spread a thin layer over each éclair, using an offset spatula or small butter knife. Allow icing to cool and firm on éclairs

Et enfin, c’est fini!

Dare you to eat just one. . . .okay, have one more

D is for Dulce de Leche . . . .

Dulce de leche is a thick, caramel-looking sauce or spread, which is made by slowly heating sweetened milk until it turns a golden brown and the sugar caramelizes. Dulce de leche translated means “sweet from milk”. First appearing in Argentina, it is popular in other Latin American countries, most notably Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Columbia. In Brazil it is known by its Portuguese name doce de leite.

France also has a version called confiture de lait, which the French spread with butter on their morning baguettes . . . which are really the leftover dinner baguettes that have been toasted. Still, extremely yummy.

The most basic recipe calls for slowly simmering milk and sugar, stirring almost constantly, Just as the milk begins to boil, baking soda is added. Much of the water in the milk evaporates and the mix thickens; the end result is usually about a sixth of the volume of the milk used.

Although dulce de leche can be enjoyed simply on its own over toasted bread, it is also used to flavor foods such as candies, cakes, cookies and ice cream. For example, it works as a great middle between oatmeal cookies (a family favourite). A friend of mine enjoys making Banoffee Pie ( . . . and I enjoy eating it). You can also spread a thin layer on a cooled brownie cake and chilling it before spreading with a traditional chocolate frosting so that you end up with “chocolate-duce de leche-chocolate”. So sinful . . . so good.

Dulce de Leche
4 cups milk
1 vanilla bean
4 ½ cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda

In a large saucepan, bring milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and strain through cheesecloth. Return to pan.

Cut vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds in the milk. Add the bean to the milk. Stir in the sugar and replace the pan on medium-high heat, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Just as the milk mixture begins to boil, stir in the baking soda. Reduce the heat to medium, stirring constantly until mixture thickens but do not re-incorporate the foam that appears on the top of the mixture. Continue to cook for 1 hour. Remove the vanilla bean after 1 hour and continue to cook until the mixture has reduced to about 1 cup, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When a wooden spoon drawn through the mixture leaves the bottom of the pan visible, and the mixture is light brown in color, remove the pan from the heat. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer.

Place the pan in an ice bath and stir constantly until the dulce de leche has cooled. Pour into sterile jars, and store in the refrigerator.

True, the process takes awhile, but the results are well worth it. You could search for a recipe that used store bought condensed milk to speed up the process, but the end product is not as nice. A bonus is that dulce de leche can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month, though it never seems to make it that long in our house.

warm up with . . . .

Gloves and Mittens. Got cold fingers? Chilly weather turning your hands to chapped leather? Here are a few of beautiful examples to restore warmth with style to your hands and keep the moisture in your skin from drying out.

Shown left is a pair of smokey grey cable knit mittens by FairMaidenDesign. I like the chunky-ness of these mitts; they look so warm and perfect for walking in the snow.

I also like these colorful options from Whitton's Mittens. (pink argyle shown right and blue flowers shown below) Made from recycled wool and cashmere sweaters and lined with felt, they are eco-friendly and very whimsical. The button detailing is a nice added touch as well.

If you are needing to keep your hands warm but still want the flexibility and dexterity of being able to use your fingers, then perhaps these fingerless gloves are what you need. I also find that fingerless gloves tend to be more charming and elegant . . . not to mention I adore big chunky rings and often a full glove does not accommodate for this.

Have a gander at these beautiful Victorian inspired lace-up gloves from Zen and Coffee Designs (shown right). The corset-like detailing on these gives the gloves a hint of sex appeal as well.

Not-so-secret-tip: Apply a bit of rich hand cream to your skin before putting your mittens or gloves on. The warmth from your skin inside the mittens will help the moisturizer work more quickly and help it last longer.

So regardless of whether you choose fun and whimsical full mittens or elegant fingerless gloves, these winter warmth accessories are sure to garner you compliments while keeping you toasty.

Stay warm out there!

C is for Cranberries

Baking with cranberries is a great way to celebrate fall. Cranberries are synonymous with harvests, cooler weather and . . . .turkey. Mmmmmm, home made cranberry sauce.

I keep a bag or two of cranberries in the freezer at all times. They are a healthy and great addition to a batch of muffins. Try tossing a cup or so into your favorite banana bread recipe.

Cranberry sauce is a snap to make, and once you have tried making your own without all the added sugars and preservatives, it will replace store bought cranberry sauces on your holiday dinner table.

Cranberry Sauce

3 cups (one bag) fresh or frozen cranberries
¼ cup water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup orange juice
2 whole cinnamon sticks
8 whole cloves

In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, combine cranberries, water and sugar. Cook uncovered over medium heat until cranberries begin to pop. With a potato masher, crush cranberries. Continue cooking until cranberries can be easily mashed. Add cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Cover and reduce heat to low. Allow to simmer until mixture reaches a thick chutney consistency. If you prefer a sauce that is less thick, add more water to thin sauce.

Remove saucepan from heat. Remove and discard cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Transfer sauce to a clean serving bowl. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before covering and chilling until ready to serve. Cranberry sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a week’s time or frozen for later use.

This recipe will make about 3 cups of chutney style sauce. You can opt to remove the seeds and skins from the sauce by pushing the sauce through a fine mesh strainer while still warm and before chilling, but be prepared that this will give you a lot less sauce.

I sometimes double this recipe, which gives enough leftover to make a family favourite:

Cranberry Oatmeal Squares

1 cup flour
1 cup oats
½ cup brown sugar, lightly packed
¼ tsp baking soda
½ cup butter or margarine
1 ½ cup whole berry cranberry sauce
½ cup slivered almonds

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar and baking soda. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into oat mixture. Press half of the oat mixture into a parchment lined 8” square baking pan. Spread pressed mixture with cranberry sauce. Stir slivered almonds into remaining oat mixture. Sprinkle evenly over top of cranberry sauce and lightly pat in place. Bake @ 350 F/ 180 C for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan completely. Cut into squares.

These easy to make squares are perfect for lunch boxes, after school snacks or with tea & coffee. Or try them served warm with vanilla ice cream. Reminiscent of a fruit crisp, these squares don’t last too long each time I make them . . .especially when “Papa” comes to visit.

Happy Baking . . .

B is for Brioche

Buttery, warm, melt in the mouth brioche. There are two places I know to get really good brioche. One is at a bakery around the corner from the bed & breakfast I stayed at just outside of Paris. The other is if I am lucky enough to be in the pastry kitchen at Cin Cin Ristorante in Vancouver when Thierry Busset is baking his brioche(yes, a true Frenchman in an Italian kitchen !) Note: Thierry will be opening his own atelier style pastry and chocolate shop called simply "Thierry" on Alberni Street in Vancouver soon . . very soon.

Brioche is a highly enriched French bread, whose high egg and butter content give it a rich and tender crumb. It has a dark, golden, and flaky crust from an egg wash applied after proofing (rising). Brioche à tête is perhaps the most classically recognized form. This style of brioche is formed and baked in a fluted round, flared tin; a large ball of dough is placed on the bottom, topped with a smaller ball of dough to form the head (tête).

Brioche dough contains flour, eggs, butter, milk, yeast, salt, and sometimes some sugar. Usual recipes have a flour:butter ratio of about 2:1; when the flour:butter ratio is closer to 5:4, it may be called La Pâte à brioche mousseline or Brioche Mousseline or Rich Man's Brioche because the higher butter ratio results in a richer brioche.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his autobiography Confessions (completed in 1769 but published after his death in 1782), relates that "a great princess" is said to have advised with regard to peasants who had no bread, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche". This saying is commonly (and inaccurately) translated as "Let them eat cake" and attributed to Queen Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI.

Brioche à Tête
(from Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques, 2001)
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. lukewarm water
1 pkg. dry active yeast
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. salt

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, water, and yeast. Let stand undisturbed for 5 minutes to froth and double in size.

In a large bowl, cream butter with salt. Add eggs. Stir in flour Place the remaining ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, start mixing on low, adding the yeast mixture slowly. When all the ingredients hold together, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix at medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be well blended, and elastic, velvety, and hold into a lump around the beater.

Remove the dough from the mixer bowl and place the dough in a large greased bowl. Cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size(about 2 hours).

Gently punch down dough. Generously butter large brioche mold or several smaller individual molds (which I enjoy making, they are so pretty piled in a basket on the breakfast table). For the large mold, separate a piece of the dough about the size of an orange. Place the remaining dough in the mold so that no seams are showing and you have a nice smooth surface. Using your fist, make an indentation in the center of the dough. Shape reserved dough into a smoothball and place in the indentation to form the “tête”. Press down gently to secure pieces of dough together. For smaller molds, divide dough into portions equal to number of pans, remembering to also form smaller balls to make the top knobs or “tête”.

Let the brioches rise in a warm, draft-free place for another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 400 F, and brush tops of brioches with an egg wash (1 egg, beaten). Bake for approximately 25 minutes for a large, single brioche and adjust the baking time to less for the smaller portions. They should be golden brown on the outside. Allow to cool ten minutes before removing from molds.

These are best the day of, when still warm. They are already very buttery, so a little jam or marmalade is all that is needed. They will also keep in an air-tight container for 3-4 days.

Mmmm, so buttery, melt-in-your-mouth good, and comforting on a cold October day like today.

A is for Apples

In this case . . . Apple Pie. The other day my family and I were planning an upcoming meal and we got to talking about comfort foods; those foods that either remind you of your home or the foods that seem to wrap you in a warm embrace and chase away any hint of a bad day. One of the first dishes mentioned was Apple Pie; warm apple pie spiced with cinnamon and a pinch of cloves and nutmeg and made perfect with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream or a large dollop of fresh whipped cream.

My mom taught me to make apple pie. Or rather, she taught me the science part of making apple pie, which is in the crust. She taught me the secret to a great apple pie is not actually in the apples (though these are important . . . more about these later), but in the pastry crust. Specifically, it’s about proportions; too much fat and the crust will be too heavy, too little and it will fall apart. In our family we have routinely used the recipe from the back of the Crisco package. It is easily and successfully doubled if needed - perfect for double crusts or for freezing half the recipe for another day. Here is a video on how to make the perfect pie crust.

Back to those apples. From experience, it is best to use a firmer baking apple else the apples will cook down too much and you will end up with an apple “sauce” pie. For this reason, I choose either Braeburn, Granny Smith or Gala apples. These are best used when they are fresh and firm, as this is when their pectin will lend to a more successful filling as the pie cools; too little pectin and the filling remains runny. For a more interesting taste, you could try mixing more than one type of apple, as long as their firmness is the same so that all the apple pieces will cook evenly.

Apples and cheese are a great combination and often I will include slices of sharp cheddar in my apple pie. This is common in a number of American recipes, and my Canadian friends look puzzled when I describe this addition. That is, until they try it and then . . ah hah! . . . they understand.

Below is my family recipe for Apple Cheddar Pie:

8 cups peeled, cored and sliced baking apples, preferably Braeburn, Granny Smith or Gala
½ cup all purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup raisins (optional)
8 slices sharp cheddar cheese (not processed slices)
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 double crust for 10” pie, rolled out and ready to use

Place one layer of pastry dough into 10” pie plate. Cover with moist tea towel so that it won’t dry out. Set second pastry layer aside. This will be the top.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, spices and raisins. Add sliced apples and toss to coat. Arrange apples with spice mixture in unbaked pie shell. Place slices of cheddar cheese in a single layer over apples. Cover with second pastry layer. Trim, seal and crimp edges as shown in the above photo. With a sharp knife, cut decorative slits into the top pastry to allow for steam to rise. Brush pastry with beaten egg yolk.

Fold lengths of aluminum foil into strips about 3 inches wide. Gently wrap crimped edges of pastry dough with foil strips. This will prevent the pastry edges from burning.

Place pie in center of a 425F / 220C oven and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350F/175C and continue baking for 30 more minutes. Remove aluminum strips and bake a final 10 minutes.

Remove hot pie from oven and allow to stand and cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. This will allow for the pie to start to set; cut too soon and the filling will still be runny and escape out of the crust. Serve warm with vanilla bean ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Warm apple pie with hot tea on a cold day or just when you are feeling a little out of sorts is a great way to give yourself a little comfort and lift your spirits.(it is also a perfect way to cheer up a grumpy spouse or to earn a “Get Out of Jail Free” pass).

Turkey and Stuffing and Pumpkin Pie, oh my !

I love turkey dinner. I love the busy day spent preparing all the dishes, and in our house we do the whole works. Turkey with giblet gravy, sausage stuffing with dried plums (both inside the bird and an extra baked dish), mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes with orange juice and brown sugar, brussel sprouts with pancetta, steamed carrots with dill, fresh butter rolls, homemade cranberry sauce and apple sauce. Usually there is champagne (champagne really does go with everything and in fact pairs quite nicely with turkey).

Dessert involves at least two types of pie: pumpkin and either apple or a chocolate Bourbon tart. I either make a traditional pumpkin pie or my mother’s pumpkin chiffon pie, which involves a ½ cup (yes, that’s one half cup) of Triple Sec or Cointreau. I find after the large turkey event, the lighter chiffon pie is much welcomed. Just don’t try to pass a breathalyzer test.

Perfect Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Tart

8 oz semisweet chocolate
dough for a 9” single pie crust
2 tbsp butter or margarine
3 eggs, slightly beaten
¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup light or dark corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup high quality bourbon (our house prefers Marker’s Mark)
1 ½ cup pecan halves

Roll out the pie crust into a 9” straight sided tart tin with removable bottom. Refrigerate tart shell until ready to fill.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and salt. Add corn syrup, butter, bourbon and vanilla. Whisk until well blended and frothy. Spread pecans in a layer on the bottom of the chilled tart crust. Pour in egg mixture. Bake @ 350 degrees for one hour. Serve warm with ice cream (optional – but not really!)

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

9” single pie crust, baked and cooled
1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
2/3 cup suger, divided in half
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ cup water
3 eggs, separated
½ cup Triple Sec or Cointreau (though I’ve used Brandy in a pinch)
1 ¼ cup canned pumpkin
½ cup heavy cream, whipped

In the top part of a double boiler, combine the gelatin, half of the sugar, the salt and ginger. Add water. Beat in egg yolk one at a time. Add Triple Sec / Cointreau and cook over simmering water, stirring occasionally until gelatin has dissolved and mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and still in the pumpkin. Allow to cool.
Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually add the remaining sugar and continue beating until very stiff. Fold in pumpkin mixture and whipped cream. Pile into baked pie crust and chill until firm (about 3 hours). Decorate with more whipped cream and candied ginger if desired.

This pie is also wonderful with a ginger snap crumb crust instead of a traditional pastry crust. Alternatively, I use a pastry crust, but add a bit of sugar and some cinnamon to the dough to give it added flavour.

tickled pink . . .

In honour of October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, here are a few things pink that have caught my eye. All these items are available for purchase on Etsy; and some feature partial proceeds being donated to Canadian Breast Cancer Society.
Shown left is a brooch of beautiful frothy pink blooms titled LETITIA. They are made to order by RiRiFisch. This brooch is very soft and romantic, and can be worn as shown on the shoulder, or at the waist of a sweater dress or on the brim of a hat.
To the right is a vibrant and sassy pleated hot pink clutch by letsglamup. The textured pleats add glamour while the color adds a bit of zing to your wardrobe. Perfect on a drab day.
It's no secret that I love shoes. These vintage Calvin Klein pale pink pumps available from TwirlVintageCo are gorgeous and reconfirm why classic Calvin Klein is well, in a word . . .classic. If you do purchase these (or any item with ribbons such as these), I suggest lightly searing the ends with a flame to prevent fraying.
I also have an affinity for pretty beads. This set of seemingly random hand made beads titled 31Pink Experiments by paulinabeads do in fact look gorgeous when strung as a group. Space them out with some pale pink Austrian or Swarovski crystals for a super elegant look.
And with all your pink garb in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness, what better was to show your support than by hosting a Breast Cancer Awareness Party. A party where women (and men) come together and through donations and pink-themed beverages, nibbles and decor, raise money to help fight this terrible disease. These pompoms by (who else) PartyPom are a great decorating idea for such a party. Like big balls of cotton candy hanging from the ceiling, they are sure to bring delight and are also available in other colours and a variety of sizes. Afterwards, they would be perfect for a little girl's room to to reuse for a gender reveal or baby shower.
To women everywhere fighting the battle against breast cancer each and every day . . .keep fighting. We support you.

October is for Opals

Opal is the birthstone for October and the anniversary gemstone for the 13th year of marriage. The irony is that during the 19th century, opals were believed to be bad luck. This superstition is thought to have started with the writer Sir Walter Scott. In 1829, the heroine of his novel Anne of Geierestein owned an opal that burned fiery red when she was angry and turned ashen gray upon her death. This stigmatism prevailed, almost destroying the opal market until Queen Victoria finally dispelled the curse by giving opal jewelry as gifts at a royal wedding. The opal’s popularity grew, and in the early 1900’s the Diamond Commission resurrected this rumor because now opals were preferred over diamonds for engagement rings.

Opal is mainly from Australia, but it also comes from Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Indonesia. Australian opal comes in three varieties: Crystal Opal, Boulder Opal and Black Opal.

Black Opal is only found at Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, Australia. This magnificent gemstone is the most valuable form of opal. Its dark background color, usually black or gray, sets the spectral colors ablaze much like a storm cloud behind a rainbow. Black Opal is so valuable that even wafer thin slices are made into doublets or triplets to give them enough strength and depth to set into gold rings and other jewelry items.

Boulder Opal is found in several mines throughout Australia.The main ones are Coober Pedy, Andamooka and Mintabe. It’s very easy to distinguish Boulder Opal from other varieties; it always has ironstone on the back of it. Boulder opals are usually a blue/green color with sparks of red, yellow, orange or purple.

The third type of Australian Opal is crystal opal. It has a white body with a rainbow of complementary colors throughout. Crystal Opal is transparent and is pure opal (hydrated silica.) It typically has sharp clarity of diffracted color visible from within and on the surfaces of the stonel. When held out of the direct light, Crystal Opal displays some of the most intense color. This is the type of opal used in inlay jewelry, which has the base of the setting blackened before the precision cut crystal opal is set into it.

Opal is a fragile stone because all opals contain water. The content varies but it can be as much as 30%. Over the course of time, the stone loses water, cracks and the opalescence diminishes. This also makes the stones sensitive to pressure and knocks. Opal jewelry (and all other jewelry for that matter) should be put on AFTER using hairspray or perfumes, as the chemicals will break down the stone and cause it to lose its luster.

Opal's internal structure makes it diffract light; depending on the conditions in which it formed it can take on many colors. Opal ranges from clear through white, gray, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, magenta, rose, pink, slate, olive, brown, and black. Of these hues, the reds against black are the most rare, whereas white and greens are the most common. Stones vary in optical density from opaque to semi-transparent. For gemstone use, a stone’s natural color is often enhanced by placing thin layers of opal on a darker underlying stone, like basalt.

Regardless of which type of opal you prefer, there is no other gemstone that displays such an intense array of colors and spectrums.

it's all in the details . . . .

I adore beautiful packaging. (and for the purpose of this post I’m talking about gift wrapping and presents, not men . . .in which beautiful packaging is de rigueur). To this end, I save ribbons and bows to use again. I confess to ironing tissue paper to re-use. My closet is full boxes for decorating and using to give gifts in. I cringe a little when I see perfectly good gift bags being crumpled up and tossed away. Re-use people, re-use!

I believe attention to the details in a gift's presentation speak volumes to the extra care and thought a person wishes to express to the gift's recipient. Here are a few examples that I have found and enjoy - many of which use re-purposed or recycled paper products:

These Damask paper take-out boxes (shown right) from a download template by ThePoshEvent make a great impression. Order the download, print out the pdf file on your computer's printer and follow the simple directions to create beautiful gift boxes. Print on different colored stiff cardstock to fit your theme.

The Red Christmas with Snowflake (left) and Vintage Luggage Style (top of post) gift tags from ozzyandfelix are two examples of how a simple addition to the top of a gift can give it that little extra something.

While a beautiful bakery box won't technically make what's inside taste better, thoughtful pretty packaging can often indicate the quality of the yummy treats hidden within.

Better quality bakeshops and pastry chefs take pride in their craft and want to ensure their creations arrive in the best possible condition to be enjoyed. These Kraft Tote Bakery Boxes (shown right) and Transparent Macaron Cases (below)are just a couple of packaging offerings by fromsoul .

So take the time to create some lovely and distinctive packaging out of old Christmas cards, second-hand wrapping paper and scrap paper punch outs. You'll have fun being creative and be doing something nice for the earth while showing the recipients of your gifts your extra care.

tick tock ....pocket watch

Think of a pocket watch and one of two popular images come to mind. The first is of a distinguished –looking gentleman with his vest and the chain of the pocket watch spanning the girth of his waistcoat. The second is of a hypnotist as he has victim focus on the swinging pendulum of the watch. Next thing, the victim is squawking around like a chicken.

butterfly vintage inspired pocketwatch
by Beadix shown above, spring garden pocketwatch by ninexmuse, shown right

But pocket watches are not just for gentlemen and stage magicians anymore. They are finding their way into feminine jewelry on long necklace chains in a nod to Steampunk culture.

These examples are a some recent discoveries on Etsy that feature the pocket watch as a very chic accessory; romantic and reminiscent of time gone by.

ah . .honey, honey

I remember growing up that honey was used in our house in many ways. It was used in baking and making honey granola as well as spread on hot toast with butter. A spoonful of honey found its way into my morning tea. When we had a sore throat, a teaspoon of honey was a soothing and welcome treat. Honey mixed with oatmeal and some warm water makes a great natural face scrub.

There are more than 300 known honey varieties, each with it’s own distinctive flavour. Many of these are produced in North America. Some have stronger, more pronounced flavours while others are milder and more delicate. When a person says that they don’t like the taste of honey, it could very well be that they have only tried one variety and not enjoyed that particular flavour. In general, honey that is light in color has a mild flavor and the ones with a darker color usually have strong flavor.

The main reason for the large number of honey varieties is the different types of nectar source. Bees visit many kinds of plants and flowers, getting different qualities of nectar from these flowers.

Here are some of the common honey varieties:

Clover Honey
Clover honey is probably described as the classic honey taste. Its sweet, mild flavor and aroma makes it the most popular honey in North America. There are different types of clovers though, namely the red clover, white clover and sweet clover. Depending on the type of clover visited by the bees, the color of clover honey can range from water white to amber.

Avocado honey
Many people think that avocado honey has a very strong flavor because of its dark amber color, but this variety of honey that comes from avocado blossoms in California actually has a mild and buttery taste. It is also rich in vitamins and minerals.

Orange blossom honey
Just like its name, the orange blossom honey has a fruity, light citrus taste and a mild aroma with a light golden or orange color. Its source is a combination of citrus trees that grow in California, Florida, Arizona and some parts of Texas, usually around March and early April when the trees begin to blossom.

Tupelo honey
This world-famous honey originates from Florida, one of the six honey-producing states in the US. Tupelo honey is obtained from the Tupelo tree that grows along the river and in swamps. The beekeepers float their hives on platforms above the water and the bees fly out to find the Tupelo flowers and then return to the hives. Another special characteristic that differentiates this honey from other honey varieties is that it will not crystallize due to its high fructose content.

Wildflower honey
The term wildflower in this honey variety actually refers to its multi floral sources. Because of this, the flavor may change or be different from a sample previously tasted. Wildflower honey is available both as free flowing and as creamed honey, with colors varying from light amber to dark amber. The taste is not as sweet as clover honey, but it is an excellent choice in cooking because of its distinct floral flavor.

Buckwheat honey
The popularity of buckwheat honey is probably due to its very dark color and its bold, robust flavor and aroma. Its color is usually a pronounced dark amber. The thick, buckwheat honey was traditionally used in French spice-bread or gingerbread since it helps to keep them moist. Those who are used to light, mild flavored honey may not appreciate the strong flavor. Compared to other honey varieties, buckwheat honey is extremely sensitive to heating. The production of buckwheat honey is largely influenced by the weather, and the best time for nectar production is in cool, moist conditions at flowering time.

Sage honey
The light colored and mild flavored sage honey comes in different varieties: black button, purple sage, white sage as well as other varietals. This flowing honey variety can have a light, almost water-white or a dark, golden colour and has a tender aroma and with a pleasant sweet, mild flavor; not unlike clover honey. Sage honey takes quite a long time to crystallize. It is known to be useful in treating cough and heart diseases.

Alfalfa honey
Alfalfa honey has a light color with a pleasant and slightly minty taste. This type of honey is extensively produced in the United States and Canada, and the alfalfa crop is usually grown in the same localities as sweet clover. The combination of sweet clover and alfalfa mixed together gives a fine product and usually results in a higher price in the market.

Sourwood honey
Just as the name implies, sourwood honey has a slightly sour taste. The color is usually clear or light yellow, but sourwood honey that is harvested in eastern North Carolina has a blue-purple color. This honey originates from the sourwood or sorrel tree that is found throughout southeastern United States, especially around the Mississippi River and south of Pennsylvania.

Regardless of which honey variety you choose honey is a great way to add flavour and sweetness to your baking, cooking and everyday enjoyment.

Honey Oatmeal Cookies:
1 cup honey
1 egg
3/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Beat together the shortening, honey, egg, water, and vanilla until creamy. Add combined remaining dry ingredients and mix well. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until edges turn golden brown. Cookies will still be soft in the center. Remove baking sheets from oven and allow cookies to cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to wire cooling rack. Once cookies have cooled completely, store in an airtight container.